Toto Wolff gives George Russell the thumbs up as Norfolk’s hot racing prospect aims to follow in the footsteps of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton by signing up with Formula One champions Mercedes

George Russell during an FIA Formula 3 European Championship Test Vallelunga in Italy. Picture: Thom

George Russell during an FIA Formula 3 European Championship Test Vallelunga in Italy. Picture: Thomas Suer - Credit: Thomas Suer / suer.photo

Norfolk's George Russell has moved a significant step closer to his Formula One dream – by being signed up by the world champions.

The 18-year-old King's Lynn racer has joined Mercedes – winners of the last three constructors' and drivers' F1 championships – as the third member of their current junior driver development programme.

'George has shown impressive form in the junior categories and we've been keeping a close eye on him for a while now,' said team boss Toto Wolff.

'It's still early days in his career but we see great potential in him. George's next challenge in GP3 will provide a good test of his credentials for the future.

'We have already seen with Esteban Ocon how effective this series can be as a training ground and, of course, it is the championship which propelled Valtteri Bottas into F1, so we will follow George's progress with great interest.'

George Russell during a FIA Formula 3 European Championship weekend at Zandvoort, Netherlands, in Ju

George Russell during a FIA Formula 3 European Championship weekend at Zandvoort, Netherlands, in July 2016. Picture: Thomas Suer - Credit: Thomas Suer / suer.photo


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Russell will compete in the GP3 Series with ART Grand Prix this season, with rounds taking place during Formula One weekends.

It means Russell will follow in the footsteps of fellow Mercedes junior Ocon, who will race for Force India in F1 this year – as well as Bottas, who has taken the seat of 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes following the German's surprise retirement.

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Last year proved a breakthrough season for the junior Mercedes programme, with Pascal Wehrlein racing in F1 with Manor and picking up some eye-catching qualifying performances, as well as earning only the second points-scoring finish for the team at last year's Austrian Grand Prix – and the German will also race in Formula One next season for Sauber.

'It's great to be part of the junior programme,' beamed Russell, who in 2014 became the youngest ever winner of the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

George Russell (GBR, HitechGP, Dallara F312 - Mercedes-Benz), FIA Formula 3 European Championship, r

George Russell (GBR, HitechGP, Dallara F312 - Mercedes-Benz), FIA Formula 3 European Championship, round 6, Zandvoort. Picture: Thomas Suer - Credit: Thomas Suer / suer.photo

'It is an incredible opportunity to have the backing of the Formula One world champions. I'm proud to have been given this kind of recognition for all the hard work that's gone into my career over the years so far.'

Russell showed speed, determination and fighting spirit to seal third place in the 2016 European Formula 3 Championship, with Mercedes-Benz powering him to three pole positions, two wins, 10 podiums and five fastest race laps along the way.

With the first pre-season test for the 2017 GP3 Series still some weeks away, Russell plans to spend plenty of time at Mercedes' Brackley headquarters getting ready for the year ahead – but he's under no illusions over his top 2017 priority.

'I've started doing some work with the team in the simulator and it's already become clear to me that I'm working with people who are the best in the business, who I know will help me develop as a driver and as a person,' added Russell.

'Of course, my priority is to get the job done over the coming season in GP3 and I'm fully focused on that.

'But this opportunity is a huge motivation and I'm looking forward to the challenge. It should be an exciting year ahead.'

• FACTFILE

George Russell

Nationality: British

Date of Birth: February 15, 1998

Place of Birth: King's Lynn

2017: GP3 Series – ART Grand Prix

2016: FIA European Formula 3 Championship – P3 (Macau Grand Prix: P5)

2015: FIA European Formula 3 Championship – P6 (Masters of Formula 3: P2)

2014: BRDC Formula 4 Championship – Champion

• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey and Facebook @mbjourno

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