Toto Wolff Endorses George Russell as Mercedes’ Next Leader

With Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari confirmed for 2025; Toto Wolff is confident George Russell will rise as the team's "new leader."


By Ben Bush
Updated on February 9, 2024

Toto Wolff and George Russell

Mercedes‘ team principal, Toto Wolff, has expressed his full support for George Russell as the ideal candidate to take over the reins as the teams’ leader once Lewis Hamilton makes his move to Ferrari in 2025.

The Formula 1 community was taken aback when Hamilton announced his decision to join Ferrari, a move decided upon just five months after extending his contract with Mercedes, which allowed for a departure after the 2024 season.

Hamilton’s early decision to switch teams has provided Wolff with ample time to scout for a new lead driver, a task he believes is simplified thanks to Russell’s exceptional talent and potential to lead the team.

“With all the Lewis discussion, something that has not been talked about enough is George,” Wolff said.

“George has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team. He is of the generation of Lando (Norris) and (Charles) Leclerc and some of the others.

“I couldn’t wish for a new team leader when Lewis leaves, no doubt about that.”

During his inaugural season with Mercedes in 2022, Russell outperformed Hamilton by finishing two places higher, securing a 35-point lead over him in the drivers’ championship. He also won the team’s sole win in the past two years at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Russell, who is set to celebrate his 26th birthday later this month, faced a tougher second year. His performance was marred by inconsistency, especially in race conditions, leading him to finish five positions and 59 points behind Hamilton.

Despite these hurdles, including Mercedes’ inability to provide a car that could compete with Max Verstappen‘s dominant Red Bull, Wolff remains unwavering in his belief in Russell’s capabilities.

“We have such a solid foundation, such a quick, talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second driver, and that’s not something I want to be rushed in.

“I guess that a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we would have looked at that could have been interesting but timing here beat us a bit.”

Will Mercedes draw lessons from Rosberg’s departure?

The announcement of Hamilton’s departure is not the first instance of Mercedes having to quickly find a new driver.

In 2016, shortly after securing a hard-fought championship win against Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s teammate at the time, unexpectedly retired. This left Mercedes with a narrow window of less than four months to find a successor for the upcoming season.

The team subsequently brought in Valtteri Bottas, who partnered with Hamilton for the next five years, marking a period of significant success for Mercedes. Toto Wolff has expressed enthusiasm about navigating this transition, indicating a positive outlook on managing such changes.

“In a way, I always like change because change provides you with opportunity,” he said.

“In the same way we embraced the Nico situation, and that was equally like from one moment to the other, unexpected, I’m really looking forward to taking the right decisions with the team together with my colleagues on who’s going to be in the seat next year.

“Maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.”

And what might that “something bold” be?

When asked if Andrea ‘Kimi’ Antonelli, a 17-year-old from the Mercedes junior program slated to debut in F2 in 2024, could be a contender for the 2025 seat, Wolff replied; “Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11 and he’s been in the junior programme, and his junior career was very successful.

“I think most important at that stage is that he concentrates on F2. I think if we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media onto him, that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago, he’s not even 18, so I would rather not start any speculation about him going into Formula 1 at that stage.”


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About The Author

Chief Editor

Ben Bush

Ben is our chief editor specialising in F1 from the 1990s to the modern era. Ben has been following Formula 1 since 1986 and is an avid researcher who loves understanding the technology that makes it one of the most exciting motorsport on the planet. He listens to podcasts about F1 on a daily basis, and enjoys reading books from the inspirational Adrian Newey to former F1 drivers.

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