Lewis Hamilton is hopeful that future team-mate George Russell will be the next Briton to win the Formula One world championship.

The British drivers will link up next season, with Russell set to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.

The 24-year-old is 15th in the drivers' standings, having achieved his first podium with Williams at the Belgian Grand Prix, while also recording top-10 finishes in Hungary, Italy and Russia.

Many expect Russell to offer a genuine challenge to Hamilton, who recently signed a new two-year deal with Mercedes, with the latter seeking an eighth world title and just eight points behind leader Max Verstappen heading into the final two races of the 2021 season.

The 36-year-old is anticipating a healthy rivalry with his compatriot and hopes he can be a positive influence on the 2018 Formula 2 world champion.

"You've seen George is hugely respectful," he said in an interview published by BBC Sport.

"He's a super-talented young man and I think there's a huge amount of respect already going in, and we've got a nice balance at the moment.

"But he's going to want to be quick, he's going to want to show up and win, and do all those things that you do when you enter a new role.

"I remember in 2007 when I went up against [Fernando] Alonso [at McLaren]. Of course, I wanted to beat him at the first race, so I appreciate and expect George to have that mentality; otherwise he's not a winner.

"But I'm in a different place. I really want to see him succeed. There's going to be a point where I don't continue in this sport. He's my team-mate, and he's going to be the next Brit that I want to see win a world championship.

"So, while we are going to be competing, and I want to win on track. I really hope I can have a positive influence on how he conducts himself within the team, whether it's the time he commits to engineering or how he churns through the data, or even just how he drives on track."

Max Verstappen fumed at "stupid idiot" Lewis Hamilton and aimed a middle-finger salute at his title rival in a heated United States Grand Prix session.

The fight for the Formula One title intensified when the pair came close to making contact during FP2 at the Circuit of The Americas on Friday.

Championship leader Verstappen snapped over the team radio after going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton, saying: "Ha! Stupid idiot!" and making his feelings clear with a gesture to the Mercedes driver.

A Red Bull engineer told Verstappen to "ignore it" as the Dutchman endured a frustrating day, having been caught in traffic at the start of the mid-session short runs.

He could only finish down in eighth in the second session as Sergio Perez set the pace, with Hamilton third behind Lando Norris.

Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in the first session, but will take a five-place grid penalty in Austin after having a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff says there is a risk that Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by only six points, could take another grid penalty this season

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver George Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Valtteri Bottas, George Russell and Sebastian Vettel have taken grid penalties for the United States Grand Prix this weekend.

Bottas won in Turkey last time out, but a repeat would appear unlikely at the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday after the Mercedes driver had a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

The Finn, who sits third in the driver standings and was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, will take a five-place penalty for the race in Austin.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff said: "I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year, we're going onto the sixth engine for Valtteri, and it is not something we choose to do, but on the contrary; we are trying to really get on top of the problems, and we haven't understood fully [what they are]."

Wolff says there is a risk that Lewis Hamilton could take another grid penalty this season as he battles for the title with Max Verstappen.

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Hamilton was 0.045 seconds slower than his team-mate Bottas in FP1, with his championship rival Verstappen third-quickest – almost a second slower than Bottas.

George Russell is determined to maintain a positive relationship with Lewis Hamilton as he prepared to join Mercedes "on level terms" with the seven-time world champion.

Such equality will not be reflected in their pay packets yet, but Russell is adamant he is joining the Silver Arrows to race for wins, saying he has "high aspirations" ahead of his close-season switch from Williams.

The 23-year-old will follow Valtteri Bottas in partnering Hamilton in the Mercedes ranks, after the Finn took over the drive from Nico Rosberg.

The rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg was at times a fraught one, which has been the case between many great drivers in motorsport history.

But Russell says that for the sake of Mercedes making progress, it is essential the drivers start on a positive and respectful note, which is where he believes they are at present.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Italian Grand Prix, where he will be driving for Williams, Russell addressed the importance of avoiding friction in a team.

"Yes, I think Mercedes have had clear experience of a sort of poor dynamic within the team and they've made it absolutely clear that they don't want a repeat and I think, on a personal level as well, I don't want that either," Russell said.

"I think it’s important for team-mates to work together, to push the team, and… next year, it's a new car, new regulations, there's no guarantees who is going to have the fastest car so it's our job as drivers to push that forward and I'd say as well, Lewis and I are at very different stages of our career, which I think also helps.

"And I have huge respect for him; being so much younger and looking up to him as a young karting driver changes that dynamic a lot. I don't see there being any issues at all."

Russell, quoted on the official F1 website, signalled that he saw his role at Mercedes not as being the second driver, deferential to the established leader, but as somebody who would receive equal treatment.

He said: “[I'm] definitely going in on level terms and that was made very clear to me.

"I think Mercedes have always been respectful in that regard, giving both the drivers the best opportunity, and obviously, naturally I believe in myself, and I have high aspirations, but equally I know how tough it's going to be.

"I think Lewis and I have got a really great relationship, we're at different stages of our careers, and we've got one goal next year which is to develop the car, push it forward and make sure that we, as two drivers, give ourselves the best chance of having the fastest race car and the only way we're going to do that is by working together to develop that."

The Monza weekend features a sprint race on Saturday to determine grid placings, rather than the familiar qualifying session, and Hamilton will again be going in search of a 100th grand prix victory on Sunday.

He has surprisingly won just one of the last nine grands prix, and the 36-year-old has been deposed again from top spot in the drivers' championship by Max Verstappen.

Next season, perhaps Russell will also be part of the title picture. Hamilton is relishing the arrival of his younger British compatriot.

"I think new fresh blood in our team is going to be great, obviously, because I'm the oldie there!" Hamilton said.

"I think that definitely will energise the whole team, knowing they have a new youngster coming through who's super-hungry, driven and will be pushing the team forwards."

A frantic spell has followed Formula One's mid-season break, with a number of noteworthy moves this week squeezed in ahead of the third leg of a triple-header.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull have two wins from two since the campaign resumed, but Mercedes have responded by firming up their 2022 plans.

George Russell is in, with Valtteri Bottas out, replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen's final F1 season has been slowed by a positive coronavirus that continues to keep him out.

Alex Albon will get another chance in Russell's place at Williams, meanwhile.

But all thoughts of next year must now be put on the backburner as the series heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.

Verstappen leads the way again, three points clear, but second-placed Lewis Hamilton has fond memories of this event, with seven pole positions, seven fastest laps and five wins – all records, the latter shared with Michael Schumacher.

A sixth victory is badly needed, preventing Verstappen from building up a head of steam again.

The Dutchman is looking for his eighth triumph of the year, a tally that only Hamilton himself in 2016 (10 wins) has reached without ending the year as world champion.

LAST TIME OUT

It was routine for Verstappen at Zandvoort as he became the first home winner of the returning Dutch GP.

The Red Bull superstar took pole comfortably and capitalised on a track that makes overtaking extremely difficult.

With Mercedes also running a slower car, Hamilton's only hope was a strategic triumph.

But Verstappen followed his rival in the first two times he pitted, wiping out any advantage, and the Briton ultimately settled for pitting a third time to pursue the fastest lap.

Ahead of his big move, it was a weekend to forget for Russell, who crashed in Q2 and then endured difficulties on race day, also speeding in the pit lane to end any chance of a points finish.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN ITALY

Sprint qualifying returns after a mixed reception at Silverstone, where Hamilton took pole for the shorter race but was beaten by Verstappen in the Saturday dash.

In a championship as tight as this, the extra points on offer could prove crucial.

The race will be of primary concern, though, and Mercedes need a result at a circuit Hamilton enjoys. The defending champion last week acknowledged Red Bull had pulled clear again in the second half of the season.

But the Austrian outfit will also want a better display from Sergio Perez, their second man.

His underwhelming performance in the Netherlands left Verstappen all alone against Hamilton and Bottas, who will want to bow out with a fifth constructors' title.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

Fixture on the calendar – This will be the 70th grand prix at Monza, a record that explains why so many F1 benchmarks have been set in Italy. Schumacher's 247.6 km/h in 2003 stands as the fastest average speed from a race winner, while an unsurpassed eight different drivers led the 1971 edition.

Ferrari frustration – Although Ferrari have recorded 19 wins and 21 pole positions at Monza, neither Scuderia driver finished their previous home race. Not 1970 to 1972 have Ferrari had both men fail to finish consecutive Italian GPs.

Another Lewis landmark – On 3,999.5 points, Hamilton will aim to become the first F1 driver to reach 4,000. He is almost 1,000 clear of his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who has 3,053.

Latest Honda hero – Verstappen's next victory will be his 13th with a Honda engine, matching Nigel Mansell's tally. The pair trail only Ayrton Senna (32) in that regard.

A day to remember – Verstappen and Hamilton will be hoping to add this to the list of famous September 12 races: Fernando Alonso's only Monza win with Ferrari in 2010, Niki Lauda's 1976 return after his Nurburgring crash and Jackie Stewart's breakthrough 1965 triumph.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 224.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 221.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 123
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 114
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 108

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 344.5
2. Red Bull – 332.5
3. Ferrari – 181.5
4. McLaren – 170
5. Alpine – 90

Mercedes confirmed the worst-kept secret in Formula One this week as they announced George Russell will drive for the Silver Arrows.

Russell will take the seat of Valtteri Bottas, who is set to join Alfa Romeo after failing to mount a drivers' championship challenge during his time with Mercedes.

A product of the Mercedes junior driver programme, Russell earned his spot with Mercedes through a series of impressive performances for Williams, while he was also praised for his display filling in for future team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year.

But how do Russell and his predecessor compare? Stats Perform looks at the numbers from their respective careers to assess whether Russell can be an upgrade.

Bottas too often the bridesmaid

Bottas has sprayed the post-race champagne plenty of times already this season. He has claimed seven podiums in 2021 but has not been on the top step. Indeed, with six third-place finishes and one second-place, Bottas has collected the most podiums without winning in the campaign so far.

That is reflective of Bottas' career with Mercedes. Unlike the man he succeeded, Nico Rosberg, Bottas has never truly been a threat to Hamilton despite the dominance the team has enjoyed.

The Finn has finished second 29 times in his career, more than any other driver who has failed to win the championship. Only Rubens Barrichello can match him. Since 2017 when he joined Mercedes from Williams, Bottas' total of 45 second and third-places finishes is more than any other driver.

And when he reflects on his Mercedes tenure, Bottas will in part have to look back on a number of missed opportunities. Rene Arnoux (11.1%, 2 of 18) and Nelson Piquet (20.8%, 5 of 24) are the only drivers to in F1 history to claim a lower percentage of victories from pole position than Bottas (29.4%), who has qualified fastest 17 times but gone on to win the race on just five occasions.

 

George growing in stature

While it can be argued Bottas has struggled to get the best out of what has been, for the most part, the clear top car on the grid, Russell has this year taken a Williams car that pales in comparison to what the team produced during their glory years beyond expectations.

Though his second-place at the Belgium Grand Prix was secured in part because the weather meant only two laps could be completed behind the safety car, his reward for a brilliant qualifying performance made him the first Williams driver to claim second since Lance Stroll in 2017.

Russell has elevated Williams from backmarkers to regular residents in the midfield, reaching Q2 of qualifying in 12 of 13 attempts in 2021. He had reached that stage nine times in his previous 37 qualifying appearances.

Even when the Williams car was the worst in the field in 2019, Russell still had the edge over Robert Kubica in qualifying. He qualified ahead of his team-mate in all 21 grands prix, becoming the first rookie driver to achieve that feat.

Bottas had the edge at the Sakhir Grand Prix when Hamilton was absent, beating Russell to pole, but the Brit was only denied victory as a puncture handed the win to Sergio Perez.

If he can avoid such misfortune going forward, Russell's track record with Williams this year indicates he could provide Hamilton with stiff competition in qualifying and on raceday.

George Russell said he is "absolutely buzzing" for next season's Formula One world championship after he agreed a move to Mercedes.

It was confirmed on September 6 that Valtteri Bottas would be ending his Mercedes stint after five seasons with the team, joining Alfa Romeo for 2022 on a multi-year deal.

Bottas has served as the second-seat driver to Lewis Hamilton, helping Mercedes to four constructors' titles.

However, with the Finn now joining Alfa in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen's impending retirement, Mercedes have signed up Hamilton's fellow Briton Russell from Williams.

"Looking ahead to next season, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely buzzing," Russell said in a statement released by Mercedes.

"It's a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands. But I'm under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it's going to be a steep learning curve.

"For now, though, I have nine more races as a Williams driver, and I want to make sure they are the best nine of my time with the team.

"Then, and only then, can I turn my attention to 2022."

The 23-year-old, who has signed a long-term contract with Mercedes, has spent the last three seasons with Williams and has achieved one podium finish in his Formula One career to date.

However, that came in contentious circumstances at this season's Belgian Grand Prix as Russell was awarded second after only two laps had been completed in sodden conditions.

When Hamilton returned a positive positive coronavirus test before the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix Russell stepped in to replace him, finishing ninth.

Russell revealed he is excited to become a team-mate of Hamilton's.

"I've looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts," Russell said of the seven-time F1 champion.

"The opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off the track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being."

 

Russell was on the Mercedes young driver programme in 2017 and won that season's GP3 Series championship before he became Formula Two champion the following year.

Mercedes team principal Toto Woolf claimed Russell and Hamilton will provide a formidable team over the next few seasons.

"We are very happy to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes," Woolf added.

"He has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.

"Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time.

"I am confident that as their relationship grows, they will form a strong team and deliver for Mercedes on and off the track in the years to come.

"It's a weight off our shoulders to have our plans for 2022 clear and announced."

Lewis Hamilton has described Valtteri Bottas as the best team-mate of his career following news the Mercedes driver will be heading to Alfa Romeo.

Bottas, 32, has won nine races and helped Mercedes to four constructors' championships since joining the team back in 2017.

The Finn is now due to take the place of the retiring Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo, with George Russell expected to line up as Hamilton's new team-mate with the Silver Arrows in 2022.

Bottas will bring plenty of experience to Alfa Romeo, having twice finished as runner-up to Hamilton in the drivers' standings and also secured 54 podiums in 92 starts for Mercedes.

Reigning champion Hamilton says Bottas is a greater driver than he realises and has savoured sharing a garage over the past five seasons.

"I'm immensely proud to have worked alongside Valtteri for the last five years," he wrote on social media.

"Together, we've been part of a team that has delivered four constructors' championships, and we've motivated one another to keep pushing through the ups and the downs.

"He has been the best team-mate I've had the pleasure of working with. Your speed and resilience has been impressive but where you truly stand out to me is the human being you are and gentleman.

"You are greater than you know and I know there's a bright future ahead for you.

"Thank you Valtteri for all your support and amazing contributions to this team. You will be missed. I wish you all the best for your future endeavours. Let's finish off strong and get that 8th for the team."

Alfa Romeo have announced Valtteri Bottas will leave Mercedes to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen on a multi-year deal from next season.

Bottas has raced for Mercedes since 2017, winning nine races across that period and helping the Silver Arrows to four constructors' championships.

However, the 32-year-old's future has been the subject of much speculation in recent months and it has now been confirmed he will leave Mercedes at the end of the 2021 season.

The Finn's exit paves the way for George Russell's likely graduation to Mercedes to partner fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton from next season onwards.

Bottas will bring plenty of experience to Alfa Romeo, having twice finished as runner-up to Hamilton in the Driver Standings and also secured 53 podiums in 92 starts for Mercedes. 

"A new chapter in my racing career is opening," he said in a statement on Monday. 

"I'm excited to join Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN for 2022 and beyond for what is going to be a new challenge with an iconic manufacturer.

"Alfa Romeo is a brand that needs no introduction; they have written some great pages of Formula 1 history and it's going to be an honour to represent this marque. 

"The potential of the setup in Hinwil is clear and I am relishing the opportunity to help lead the team forward up the grid, especially with the new regulations in 2022 giving the team a chance to make a leap in performance.

"I'm grateful for the trust the team has put in me and I cannot wait to repay their faith: I'm as hungry as ever to race for results and, when the time comes, for wins. 

"I know Fred [Vasseur] well and I am looking forward to getting to know the rest of the team I am going to work with, building relationships as strong as the ones I have at Mercedes.

"I am proud of what I have achieved in Brackley and I am fully focused on finishing the job as we fight for another world championship, but I am also looking forward to the new challenges that await me next year."

The news of Bottas' arrival comes after Raikkonen announced last week he is to retire at the end of the season. Alfa Romeo have yet to announce who will partner Bottas next year.

Bottas will reunite with Alfa Romeo team principal Vasseur after the pair previously worked together at ART in F3 in 2009 and 2010, and in GP3 in 2011.

Vasseur said: "It is a pleasure to welcome Valtteri to the team and we are looking forward to our journey together. With him, we bring to Hinwil a strong team player with experience at the sharp end of the grid.

"Valtteri has been an integral part of a team that rewrote the history books and he has four constructors’ world titles to his name: he is the right driver to help Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN make a step forward towards the front of the grid."

Toto Wolff has revealed only paperwork is preventing Mercedes from announcing their 2022 driver line-up, with George Russell expected to join Lewis Hamilton.

Much of this season has been dominated by talk around the second Silver Arrows seat, with the incumbent Valtteri Bottas under pressure from Russell.

Bottas finished third at the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday to move up to third in the drivers' championship, but Russell claimed his first Formula One podium in the previous race at Spa.

The Williams man – a junior Mercedes driver – is now expected to make the step up, with Kimi Raikkonen's imminent retirement potentially opening space for Bottas at Alfa Romeo.

Alex Albon, who drove for Red Bull in 2019 and 2020 and remains on their books, has been linked with Russell's Williams seat.

Asked after Sunday's race if Mercedes' next move could be confirmed as soon as next week, at the Italian Grand Prix, team principal Wolff told Sky Sports: "Yeah, I think there's a pretty good chance – at least 50-50. The reason for waiting is the signature on the paper."

First, however, Mercedes still have a fight on their hands this year, just ahead of Red Bull in the constructors' championship but with Max Verstappen leading Hamilton in the drivers' standings.

Red Bull's superior pace was evident at Zandvoort, where Verstappen became the first Dutchman to win his home event.

"When [the other team] have the quickest car on track, whatever you try on strategy is difficult," Wolff said.

"Credit to Max, credit to Red Bull, they were really faultless today."

Of Monza, the Mercedes boss added: "I think [it will be] good. It's so close together, and here Max was the quickest, his home track, you see the crowds.

"Monza is maybe going to be a bit of a different environment. We feel that we are still in the run for the championship."

A grinning Max Verstappen celebrated taking a home Dutch Grand Prix pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, while George Russell and Williams endured a day to forget.

Verstappen is only three points behind Formula One world championship leader and defending champion Lewis Hamilton after last week's controversial Belgian GP, and he has the backing of a fervent crowd this weekend.

No Dutch driver has ever won this event, but Verstappen will attack the race from pole position on its return after 35 years away.

The Red Bull superstar edged out Hamilton, who recovered well from missing a session on Saturday after breaking down, and another Mercedes in Valtteri Bottas.

Sergio Perez failed to even escape Q1, though, meaning Verstappen will not have the support of his team-mate at the front of the grid.

"It's an amazing feeling of course to get pole position here," Verstappen said over a significant din. "The crowd is incredible, and today was very enjoyable.

"The car was really nice to drive, and this track as well for qualifying, once the fuel comes out, it's really cool."

Verstappen had escaped a penalty for a potential red-flag breach when overtaking Lance Stroll in FP2 on Saturday.

And pole is set to be especially important at Zandvoort, where overtaking is always difficult.

The Dutchman's final run of one minute and 8.885 seconds increased his Q3 advantage, but Hamilton's late dash – 0.038 seconds slower – at least put him on the front row, enjoying a better outing than countryman Russell, who was second last time out.

It had looked like being another positive day for Williams – even with team principal Jost Capito absent as a precaution after contact with Kimi Raikkonen prior to his positive coronavirus test.

The team came into this race having had both drivers collect points in back-to-back races for the first time since 2016.

And Russell and Nicholas Latifi each again advanced through to Q2.

But there their day took a turn, with Russell prompting a first red flag when he lost the rear of his car heading into the final corner.

The short delay did not give the Briton enough time to resume the session, as he explained there was "a bit of damage on the rear suspension" but "nothing the guys won't be able to fix overnight".

Russell told Sky Sports: "We weren't quite on the pace this week as much as we would have hoped, and I was on a really good lap.

"I was just pushing too hard and ultimately just attacked that last corner too much and lost the rear. I'm sorry to the team, because that's not how we wanted to end qualifying."

By the time Russell faced the media, the session had been disrupted again, with team-mate Latifi careering into the barrier.

That brought a premature end to Q2 that at least gave Russell P11 as a consolation, knocking Lando Norris out.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:08.885
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.038secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.337
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.593
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.642
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.652
7. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +0.705
8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.048
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.071
10. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.281

Max Verstappen believes George Russell will make life "very difficult" for Lewis Hamilton if he replaces Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year.

Williams driver Russell has been tipped to take Bottas' seat, with Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff having revealed his desire to finalise his driver line-up for 2022 this month.

Russell stepped in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year after the seven-time Formula One world champion tested positive for coronavirus.

The 23-year-old also conducted a Pirelli tyre test for Mercedes ahead of the mid-season break and Verstappen thinks his arrival would keep his fellow Brit Hamilton on his toes.

"If he joins then for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by three points in the battle for the title, said ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend.

"He jumped into the car in Bahrain and basically from lap one he was making it very difficult for Valtteri, so you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car and the more you get accustomed within the team, naturally you're going to get faster.

"When you do your first race you're guided by the team about setup direction because you just don’t know what to do really, initially, with the car.

"I remember my first race at Red Bull, the thing I said was is that we will just follow a bit what Daniel [Ricciardo] is doing because I have no clue about what this car needs to go quick because even though F1 cars look pretty similar, the way of setting them up can be very different.

"I am very confident - already what you could see with the performance he did in Spa was really good.

"Of course, they set up the car a bit more for wet conditions but nevertheless to do that in a Williams was very impressive. I do expect him to do very well if he gets that seat."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc echoed Verstappen's sentiments.

“I have actually been team-mates with George for a year in karting and I think what I have seen of him since that time, is just that he is extremely talented," he said.

"Every time he gets into the car he's just quick straightaway, so his talent makes him special.

"If he goes to Mercedes next year, and I hope he does because I think he deserves a chance there, I'm pretty sure he will perform very, very well and impress more than one person."

A Belgian Grand Prix washout only increased the intrigue in the two biggest battles in Formula One this season ahead of a return to Zandvoort.

The Dutch GP is back on the calendar for the first time since 1985 – when only three drivers on the current grid had been born.

There should be more racing this week than at Spa, where rain wrecked the weekend, and plenty of drama is in store.

The two biggest beneficiaries from the two-lap procession last time out were Max Verstappen and George Russell.

Verstappen closed to within three points of Lewis Hamilton thanks to his position on pole, while Russell claimed a first career podium as he bids to beat Valtteri Bottas to the second Mercedes seat.

Existing Silver Arrows stars Hamilton and Bottas will aim to respond on Sunday, although time may have run out for the Finn to make his mark.

LAST TIME OUT

Verstappen just pipped Russell to pole on Saturday at Spa but could not have known then how crucial that final dash would prove.

Sunday's race was delayed and delayed by awful weather, finally starting under the safety car only for a red flag to bring the drivers in once more.

With two laps fulfilled, it was enough to declare a result, giving Verstappen a precious win and Russell an improbable podium.

Until the Hungarian GP, immediately prior to the mid-season break, Russell's only F1 points had come in Hamilton's Mercedes as a reserve last season.

But an eighth-placed finish was followed by his best result yet, capping a great weekend for Williams, who also had Nicholas Latifi in the points for a second straight race.

Bottas was at Williams, alongside Felipe Massa, the last time they had two drivers do that back in 2016, but the team are eager to see Russell now get his chance at Mercedes.

Toto Wolff confirmed in Belgium the call had been made on their 2022 driver, and Williams team principal Jost Capito told Channel 4 of Russell: "I do not want to hang on to him.

"As he, the driver, can win the championship, he deserves a car that can win the championship, and he can do that in the Mercedes.

"And I am convinced he will come back in a couple of years and win the championship with us."

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NETHERLANDS

Some racing would be nice, and Hamilton and Bottas will not be the only men out to make amends.

Lando Norris' crash in qualifying cost him dear as he was unable to recover on race day, finishing 14th to continue a mini-slump after retiring in Hungary.

Focus will again be on the top two and on Russell, though.

With Williams having collected more points from their past two grands prix (20) than their previous 71 (15), he will be eyeing another unlikely challenge.

Russell could become the first Williams driver to claim consecutive podiums since Bottas' three in a row in 2014.

"Obviously off the back of last weekend in Spa, everyone just wants to get racing again and put on a show for all of the supporters at the circuit and for those watching around the world on TV," he said.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Return to form for Ferrari? – Back when Zandvoort was a regular on the F1 calendar, Ferrari registered more wins (eight), fastest laps (10) and podiums (24) than any other team at the Dutch GP.

Max out to make history – Verstappen could become the first Dutch driver ever to celebrate a win in his own country in F1. It would be only the third home Benelux win after Verstappen's triumph in Belgium and Jacky Ickx's 1971 Dutch GP success.

Red Bull front row regulars – After Spa, Red Bull have as many pole positions this season (six) as in the rest of the hybrid era combined. Another would take them level with Lotus on 47 all-time, tied fifth.

Hamilton hunting milestones – Still one win shy of 100 in F1, victory would also see Hamilton become the first driver to 4,000 points and give him his 175th podium.

Another to tick off – Hamilton has wins (29) and pole positions (30) at the most different circuits as he prepares to tackle his 34th. Meanwhile, fellow Zandvoort debutant Fernando Alonso has earned points at each of the prior 32 tracks at which he has appeared.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 202.5
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 199.5
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 113
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 108
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 303
2. Red Bull – 291
3. Ferrari – 163
4. McLaren – 163
5. Alpine – 77

George Russell earned a front-row spot for the Belgian Grand Prix as it was revealed Mercedes have decided whether to recruit him for next season.

The young British driver defied expectations of what the Williams car could achieve by producing a stunning qualifying lap in the rain at Spa.

Only a last-ditch effort by title hopeful Max Verstappen denied Russell a first career pole, while Lewis Hamilton took third place on the grid.

It may be that Hamilton and Russell become team-mates next season, if Mercedes decide to part ways with Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed on Saturday that the team have chosen their line-up for 2022, but that they will keep it private for now.

According to multiple reports, Wolff twice replied "Yes" in a media call when asked if that big call had already been made.

"Today doesn't make any difference," Wolff said. "We know what we have with George."

Russell is a part of Mercedes' young driver programme and was recalled to his parent team to replace a COVID-19 affected Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix last season, an indication of Wolff's high regard for his ability.

Wolff said of Mercedes' recent quandary over Bottas and Russell: "If it would have been an easy decision, we would have made it earlier, because we know what we have with Valtteri and we know what we have with George.

"Both of them deserve being looked after. Both deserve to be looked after in the best possible way, because both of them are part of the family, and we hold them up high."

Russell said there "probably should be" points awarded for qualifying performance, as he reflected on the fact he has taken no such reward yet this weekend. But the 23-year-old believes he can be a force in Sunday's race, particularly if the track is again wet.

He said: "We've obviously got to be realistic, we've got incredibly fast cars behind us, but if the conditions stay the same, we've got a car that's probably quick enough on merit in the top 10.

"But if we're starting from the front row, there's no reason why we can't try to hold that position for the majority of the race. I don't think I’m going to do anything stupid with the cars around me that are clearly going to be faster than us – but there's no reason why we can’t finish, if conditions are like this, top five, and just maximise it. Points is an absolute minimum."

Verstappen said: "This track is amazing to drive in the dry and when you then have a wet qualifying, it's pretty ... I wouldn't say scary but it's really interesting and quite extreme in Q3 when you know that you have to push and try to go to the limit in the wet here."

Championship leader Hamilton said the Mercedes race pace "should be a little bit stronger" than in practice. "But I still think it's going to be a handful, particularly if it's going to be these conditions," he added.

 

The season broke for summer after the Hungarian Grand Prix at the start of August, and Saturday marked a return to the thrills and spills of the sport.

The conditions were particularly tough in the third and final stage of qualifying as heavy rain arrived at the circuit, with Lando Norris crashing out early and leaving his McLaren a heavily damaged heap.

Norris, who had shown excellent pace up to that point, was given the all-clear after an elbow X-ray in hospital and looks set to race.

He had complained of aquaplaning moments before crashing badly, his car sliding into the barrier on the left side of the track at Eau Rouge and spinning out of control across the track.

He said over the team radio: "I let you down, my bad."

However, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had wanted the session red-flagged before the crash happened and told his team on hearing of the crash: "What did I say, red flag? It's unnecessary. Is he OK?"

Vettel was quickly on the scene and stopped to check Norris was safe before driving on past the damaged McLaren.

There was succour for McLaren as Daniel Ricciardo took fourth on the grid, just ahead of Vettel, but it was a shocker of a day for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz qualified in 10th and 12th respectively. 

Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies said: "Our qualifying performance was well below our usual standard and so far this whole weekend has proved very difficult for us."

Max Verstappen took pole position at a soggy Belgian Grand Prix – and incredibly it will be George Russell alongside him on the front row.

A stunning final lap from Russell looked set to give the Williams driver a first career pole, but Formula One title hopeful Verstappen pipped him in the closing seconds.

British 23-year-old Russell, who has been tipped for a move to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season, said he was "absolutely buzzing" about his performance, defying the limitations of his car with a supreme drive.

Hamilton took third on the grid and saluted Russell's performance, with Daniel Ricciardo fourth.

The qualifying session was disrupted by heavy rain and a heavy crash for Lando Norris – Ricciardo's McLaren team-mate – which caused a hold-up in Q3 of close to 45 minutes.

Moments before smashing into the barriers, Norris complained about the conditions, and Sebastian Vettel had called for the session to be red-flagged before the crash made it an inevitability. Norris was taken to hospital for a precautionary elbow X-ray.

The drivers returned to the wet track eventually, with Hamilton quick to point out that spray remained a problem. He set an early target of 2:01.552 but Russell producing a stunning lap to go quicker.

Verstappen and Hamilton were both out on the track and chasing the new target as the clock ran down, with only the former able to achieve that.

After three weeks since the last race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, this was a return to the thrills and spills of the sport.

"I'm super happy to have a qualifying like this after the break and to have a pole position again," said Verstappen.

Russell has been on the front row once before, but that came in a Mercedes when he stood in for Hamilton last season at the Sakhir Grand Prix. He said getting out of Q1, the initial stage of the qualifying session, had been his primary target at Spa, with anything else a bonus.

"The car was feeling great and I had so much confidence," Russell said. "I was in a fortunate position where I had nothing to lose. We were in Q3 which is not the norm for us and we just had to go for it.

"I'm buzzing, absolutely buzzing. Tomorrow's the important one but it's been mega today. I'm delighted for everyone. If the weather is the same and it's there for the taking tomorrow, we'll go for it."

Hamilton, who edged ahead of Verstappen in the drivers' standings by finishing second in Hungary, said it had been "a very difficult day for everyone" due to the inclement weather.

"Well done to Max and to George," Hamilton added. "If it's like this tomorrow it's going to be tricky to balance straight line speed and downforce."
 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:59.765
2. George Russell (Williams) +0.321secs
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.334
4. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.099
5. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.170
6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.399
7. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +2.347
8. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +2.737
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +3.748
10. Lando Norris (McLaren) no complete lap in Q3

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