George Russell backed to match Michael Schumacher in replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes

George Russell could secure a future move to Mercedes or another Formula One giant with a strong performance at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix, according to David Coulthard.

Russell, 22, has been drafted in to replace Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for coronavirus this week and is self-isolating.

The British driver has impressed in his two seasons with Williams despite not scoring a single point to date in his career.

Russell has never been out-qualified by a teammate in Formula One and has reached Q2 nine times in 15 races this year, despite driving what most believe to be the slowest car on the grid.

Former McLaren driver Coulthard thinks Russell has a golden opportunity to force his way into Mercedes’ thinking if he can challenge or even beat Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain.

The Finn has a contract at the team for next season but Russell could put himself in contention for a 2022 drive if he performs well in Hamilton’s absence.

Coulthard explained: “I think it is a brilliant decision. I think it backs completely the support and belief Mercedes have shown with George in helping him get into Formula One with Williams.

“This is the absolute golden opportunity for George to go out, match Valtteri at the minimum, beat Valtteri and put himself on the map.

“This is a shootout – not the first time he’s had a shootout – his career has been full of those to get to this point.”

Russell can make an impact similar to that of Mika Hakkinen or Michael Schumacher with the whole world watching, says Coulthard.

Hakkinen replaced Michael Andretti at McLaren for the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix and beat the legendary Ayrton Senna in qualifying.

Similarly, Schumacher qualified in an impressive seventh for the Jordan team on his debut back in 1991.

Coulthard added: “Let’s imagine Mercedes are the fastest car again and they will be happy with one-two which is Valtteri on pole, George second but if George out-qualifies Valtteri then people are going to sit up and take notice in the way Hakkinen, when he was drafted into McLaren in Estoril, in his very first race out-qualified Senna.

“Everyone went woah! Suddenly it was a statement of intent.

“Similarly, Schumacher at Spa in the Jordan qualified seventh, nobody expected it and that was a statement of intent.

“Everything is set up beautifully for George to go from being from someone who is respected as a fast racing driver to someone who has elevated himself to a must-have driver for any of the top teams.”

Russell will step into the Mercedes for qualifying at 5pm as he looks to make an instant impact by grabbing pole position.

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