George Russell’s Mercedes move completes a full set of young, exciting drivers across Formula 1’s four biggest teams from 2022 onwards.
Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren each have the kind of driver who sit in the middle of a rare Venn diagram: star of the future and star of the present.
It was always likely that Russell would get the chance to battle Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris in the years to come but having his Mercedes deal signed and sealed confirms that 2022 will usher in a glorious age of young driver talent.
The true quality of the years ahead will be defined by how well F1’s new technical rules work. They are designed to make it easier for cars to follow and for drivers to race, while sporting and financial changes are meant to even the playing field.
F1 is aiming big for the new era that begins next year so let’s dream for a minute and imagine a world in which Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren really can do battle with one another – with their young superstars leading them into an exciting new world.
It’s a situation that might just be unprecedented in F1. It’s not new for high-quality drivers ending up in the best seats. But for the stars to align and allow younger drivers to represent each of the top teams is unusual.
The last time F1 had this batch of new talents arrive effectively together was when Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica were entering F1.
Given he would go on to become world champion we may include Nico Rosberg in that mix. But it was only Hamilton and Vettel who found themselves consistently in frontrunning machinery and the other drivers in the mix were more experienced and Ferrari was not backing youth in the same way. Though Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were not ’old’ by 2010 they had been around a while.
Perhaps the nearest equivalent in modern times was 2003? That season Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya had started to establish themselves at McLaren and Williams respectively, with Alonso finding a race seat with Renault and Jenson Button moving to lead the BAR challenge.
But that season falls short of what 2022 offers because Ferrari is absent (Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello could hardly be described as young guns) and of course BAR was not a real frontrunner.
This is what makes it such a fascinating phase of history for F1 to be moving into. We have previously considered the risk of Russell being left the odd one out of this next generation but now it’s all lined up.
It’s not hypothetical it’s really happening. Russell vs Verstappen vs Leclerc vs Norris for years to come, representing F1’s biggest teams.
There’s something romantic about the notion of these four modern-day F1 giants going to war with what McLaren boss Zak Brown calls ”franchise drivers” in each of them.
Russell, Verstappen, Norris and Leclerc all have their fandom around them too, they’ve brought in new fans and they’ve commanded the respect and affection of existing fans.
If any of these drivers go up against each other in a championship battle in the years to come it will be sensational for Formula 1 and something to truly savour.
And in the short-term there will still be the likes of Hamilton in the mix, and maybe even Alonso and Vettel too. Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly might not be in quite the same group as the four we’ve focused on so far but each are clearly very good in their own right and have more years left in F1 than they’ve completed so far – which means the F1 grid has a rare strength-in-depth that could run for the long-term.
At some point, F1 was going to have to try to move on from the Hamilton/Vettel era. It’s hard to imagine how F1 bosses could have orchestrated a better way if they tried.
There’s a reason the likes of Hamilton have talked so enthusiastically about the younger talent coming to the fore in F1. The seven-time world champion knows what an exciting time this is for F1, even though these drivers are circling him like sharks.
Those who were ’stars of tomorrow’ not too long ago are becoming the stars of today. That they will occupy seats at F1’s four best and biggest teams next season is a stellar way to usher the championship into what it hopes will be a transformational new era.