With sweeping technical rule changes coming into effect for the upcoming Formula 1 season, most teams have opted for continuity when it comes to driver pairings, with one very notable exception.
British racer George Russell is 5/1 to win the drivers’ championship in his first year with Mercedes, who have claimed the constructors’ title in each of the last seven seasons.
The competitive order in Formula 1 often gets shaken up in years when big rule changes are applied.
The teams have to start with a fresh sheet of paper rather than developing the previous years’ designs. But the biggest and best-funded outfits will always have an advantage.
Russell has earned his big chance
King’s Lynn pilot Russell has been a Mercedes protege for most of his career and became the first driver to win both the GP3 and Formula 2 titles at the first time of asking on his way to the top level.
He has spent his first three years in F1 with the Williams team, struggling to score points.
However, he impressed by qualifying ahead of his team-mate in every race of his first two seasons with the backmarkers and that earned him a call-up to Mercedes when their star driver Lewis Hamilton had to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix late on in the 2020 season.
Although missing out on pole position to team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Russell qualified on the front row, took the lead at the start and was leading comfortably until an appearance by the safety car changed the complexion of the race and cost Russell dearly.
From then on it was only a matter of time before Russell became a fully-fledged Mercedes driver.
Expect Hamilton to be back on top form
Safety cars have caused as much trouble for Mercedes as any of the other racing cars in the field in recent seasons, and it was the deployment of the SC late in December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that created the circumstances that robbed Hamilton of a record eighth drivers title.
That episode left a bitter taste for most observers, barring fans of the main beneficiary Max Verstappen and Hamilton has not appeared or spoken in public since.
His 26.8 million Instagram followers have heard nothing from the usually prolific poster since the day before the Abu Dhabi race.
That has led to speculation that the disillusioned racer might call it a day on his spectacular career, but it would be a huge shock if it got that far and Hamilton is 11/10 favourite to regain his crown in 2022.
Bottas replaces fellow Finn
F1 legend and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen brought down the curtain on his career in December, and his seat at Alfa Romeo is taken by departed Mercedes pilot, fellow Finn Bottas.
Raikkonen scored ten points for the team last season and Bottas is 300/1 for the championship, while his new team-mate, F1 debutant Guanyu Zhou is 1000/1.
Russell’s place at Williams is taken by ex-Red Bull racer Alexander Albon, who returns after a year in the German Touring Car championship.
*All odds correct at time of writing