George Russell exclusive: On replacing Lewis Hamilton and whether he can win Sakhir GP
George Russell speaks about his expectations for his first weekend at F1's sharp end with the world champions; See Russell's first drive in 2020's title-winning car from 1.30pm on Friday on Sky F1
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 04/12/20 10:48pm
George Russell believes he has the "hardest shoes ever to fill" by standing in for Lewis Hamilton in the world championship-winning Mercedes at the Sakhir GP.
The 22-year-old Briton, who has only previously raced for Williams towards the back of the field in the sport and is yet to score an F1 point, has vowed to take a "step by step" approach over the race weekend to building up his confidence and understanding of the W11 - which he will drive for the very first time in practice in Bahrain on Friday, which begins at 1.30pm live on Sky Sports F1.
Hamilton, sidelined for the first GP of his career after testing positive for Covid-19 on Monday, has won 11 of this season's 15 races and claimed a record-equalling seventh world title at a canter last month.
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And while Russell is therefore stepping into the car that has dominated F1 2020, he is under no illusions about the challenge he faces.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports F1, Russell said: "Lewis is the greatest of all time statistically. In my opinion, as well, I believe he is the most all-rounded best driver ever, I think.
"For me having seen him up close as well, seeing how he drives, how he interacts with the team and everything.
"So stepping into his shoes, into his car that he won the world championship in is obviously surreal. It's the hardest shoes ever to fill.
"Coming in in the penultimate race of the season, it's tricky. It is very tricky."
Managed by Mercedes, Russell described the Brackley team as "like my second family" having spent 2018 as their reserve driver and testing for them in each of the previous three years.
But his most recent test in one of their cars was last December and so this year's W11 - a challenger built and optimised around Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who are both shorter than Russell - is completely new for him.
Sakhir GP preview and Sky F1 TV times
Formula 1 is taking a big step into the unknown this weekend at the super-fast Sakhir GP - click the link to find out the full schedule on Sky Sports F1.
"It's a strange position to find myself in," admitted the King's Lynn-born driver, who revealed on Thursday he is having to wear a smaller race boot size for this weekend to help squeeze into the car.
"Obviously I need to wait and see how I get on because, for example, if I were to have another driver come into the Williams car mid-way through the season I've been in that car for a year and a half, I know the team, I know the set-up.
"I will be comfortable and confident and those guys would struggle to come in being my team-mate because I've had that chance to understand everything in a Williams car.
"Obviously Valtteri's been at Mercedes now for four or five years, I'm not expecting to come in and be right on the pace straight away. It's a new seat, different car, different thing to learn and it will take a bit of time to get used to everything. But I expect to be a bit quicker than what I was previously and hopefully fighting at the top end of the grid."
Russell added: "It's trying to unlearn what I know and relearn new things, in the space of two days. It's a tall order."