SPIELBERG: In this file photo taken on June 27, 2021 Third placed Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas looks on after the Formula One Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg, Austria. - AFP

PARIS: Valtteri Bottas has signed a multi-year deal with Alfa Romeo starting next season, the Formula One team announced yesterday, paving the way for George Russell to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. "A new chapter in my racing career is opening: I'm excited to join Alfa Romeo Racing for 2022 and beyond for what is going to be a new challenge with an iconic manufacturer," Bottas said in a statement.

Bottas, 32, has spent the past five seasons alongside seven-time world champion Hamilton at Mercedes, having replaced Nico Rosberg, who retired after winning the 2016 title. The Finn has won nine Grands Prix and claimed 17 pole positions in 92 starts with the team, but has not consistently been able to challenge Hamilton. Bottas finished second in the world championship the past two seasons but is a distant third this year. His last win came at the Russian Grand Prix in September 2020.

"I am proud of what I have achieved (at Mercedes) and I am fully focused on finishing the job as we fight for another world championship," said Bottas. "But I am also looking forward to the new challenges that await me next year." Bottas will effectively replace compatriot Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo. The 2007 world champion is retiring from the sport at the end of the campaign.

"The potential of the setup is clear and I am relishing the opportunity to help lead the team forward up the grid," said Bottas. "Especially with the new regulations in 2022 giving the team a chance to make a leap in performance." Alfa Romeo have picked up just three points through 13 races this season and are ninth in the constructors' championship.

"With (Bottas), we bring to Hinwil a strong team player with experience at the sharp end of the grid," said Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur. "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 make a step forward towards the front of the grid."

Mercedes are expected to announce the arrival of Russell from Williams in the coming days. Russell, 23, has spent three seasons at Williams, and impressed in a one-off appearance for Mercedes at last year's Sakhir Grand Prix as a stand-in for Hamilton after he tested positive for COVID-19. - AFP