George Russell has revealed he was in the bathroom when he received a 2am phone call from Toto Wolff, asking him to race in place of Lewis Hamilton. The Williams driver has been a Mercedes junior since 2017 and will now get the chance of a lifetime at the Sakhir Grand Prix, after seven-time world champion Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.
After initially returning a negative test, Hamilton woke up with mild symptoms on Monday and ordered a retest.
To his surprise, the result came back positive meaning he would have to enter a 10-day period of isolation.
Russell has tested several times for Mercedes in the past but this will be a different kind of challenge as he bids to highlight his future credentials.
The 22-year-old has now explained that he only found out he’d be racing for Mercedes in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
He said: “I got a phone call from Toto at 2am on Tuesday morning.
“I was actually in the bathroom at the moment. Which was slightly awkward.
“So I answered the phone and he said: ‘George, you in the bathroom?’. [I replied:] ‘Sorry, I’m in the bathroom’.
“He said: ‘Unfortunately, Lewis has caught COVID. He’s doing well, he’s healthy and feels fine, which is most important, but we want you to drive’.
“[I went:] ‘Right, ok’. And then obviously a bit of a sleepless night.
“We just sort of made it happen throughout the following day. And I counted yesterday, I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday – pinging between so many different people. [I’m] glad we got there in the end.”
Russell also paid tribute to his current team Williams, for allowing him to join back up with Mercedes.
He signed a three-year deal with Williams at the start of the 2019 season after spending 2018 as a reserve driver with Mercedes.
It was an anxious wait for Russell but he’s now been given the green light to begin preparations for the weekend.
“I need to say a massive thank you to them for allowing me this opportunity,” he added.
“And here we are, it feels strange to be back with Mercedes as obviously I spent two years there [as] test/reserve/simulator driver, so I know all of the guys, which makes things a lot easier to get back into the team.
“[I’m] just being bombarded with information at the moment to learn [and get] ready for the weekend ahead.”