Russell’s big opportunity is a clear threat to Bottas

2020 F1 season

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George Russell has finally got the opportunity he has craved since making his Formula 1 debut with Williams at the beginning of last year.

He will slot into the Mercedes W11 of world champion Lewis Hamilton this weekend – a machine which has won 13 of the 15 races so far this year.

The 22-year-old Russell came into F1 having emulated Charles Leclerc’s feat by winning back-to-back championship wins in its two most prominent feeder series, GP3 (now Formula 3) and Formula 2. But while Leclerc progressed from toiling in the midfield in a Sauber to winning races for Ferrari in the space of two years, Russell hasn’t had the same chance to display his skills at the front of an F1 field.

Indeed, last season he seldom had the chance to race anything other than the other Williams, as the struggling team languished far from the pace in a car which wasn’t even ready for the start of pre-season testing.

The 2020 season has been a marked improvement for the team. Russell has reached Q2 more often than not – a total of nine times. The team’s other car has made it there just once, and Russell has further indicated his abilities over a single flying lap by out-qualifying both his team mates to date in each of his 36 race appearances.

Russell will have a different team mate this weekend, however. And Valtteri Bottas will surely view an opportunity for Russell as a threat to him.

Earlier this year Mercedes confirmed the latest in a series of one-year contract extensions for Bottas, keeping him at the team for the 2021 F1 season at least. But does it have full confidence in his ability to lead the team when Hamilton decides to call it quits? After all Hamilton’s previous team mate Nico Rosberg inked a longer, two-year deal in 2016, before stunning them with his decision to retire after snatching the title that year.

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While Russell has been selected to fill this short-term vacancy, his gaze is fixed on Mercedes’ next long-term opening.

George Russell, Williams, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Russell is yet to score a point in F1
Mercedes could have gone with the conservative option. In Stoffel Vandoorne it has a reserve driver on hand who could have slotted into the cockpit right away.

In their press release announcing Russell, team principal Toto Wolff made much of the value of his recent race experience. No doubt that has played a role in the team’s decision to elevate him over Vandoorne.

But it also serves as a chance to find out whether the driver who’s shone so brightly at Williams can cope in the maximum-pressure environment of a manufacturer team with an army of staff and a fearsome reputation honed by dominating much of the last seven years of Formula 1.

Bottas has all the advantages of familiarity on his side. With Hamilton benched for at least one race, he goes into the weekend as a clear favourite to win.

If Russell manages to put one over him, he could seriously injure Bottas’s hopes of remaining in the best car in Formula 1.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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139 comments on “Russell’s big opportunity is a clear threat to Bottas”

  1. Everything to lose for Bottas. He needs to drive off into the distance right from lap 1. Anything else and the vultures will start circling over his Merc seat.

    Fantastic thing for F1 though, seeing these 2 in the same seat.

    Hope Lewis gets well soon. I am sure Merc want him to race in Abu Dhabi with #1 car number as well (Lewis has been doing that for one race every season, right?

    1. @sumedh No, he hasn’t. He used it for one Abu Dhabi GP FP1, but that’s about it.

    2. He needs to drive off into the distance right from lap 1.

      That isn’t necessarily the best strategy with the current tyres. Winning the race is the goal, doesn’t matter what the gap is.

      1. @hotbottoms That’s exacly why he needs to do it. In these times pulling away shows the driver can be fast and look after the car / tyres.

    3. Everything to lose for Bottas. He needs to drive off into the distance right from lap 1.

      I agree he has everything to loose.

      Bottas has a huge advantage, in that he has been driving that car all season. He also has experience of the pressure of being at a top team. Russel, on the other hand, has barely driven the car and is used to being at the bottom end of the grid.

      It is not enough for Bottas to beat Russel. Even if the two are of equal ability, his experience with the car should put him a decent step ahead. If Russel finishes close to Bottas or beats him (without extenuating circumstances), most will consider that a strong indication that Russel is the better driver, which puts Bottas future at Mercedes under serious threat.

      In short, Bottas needs a convincing win. That won’t really do much to improve his standing, but anything else will make him look very bad. I would not want to be in Bottas’ shoes…

      (Actually, what am I saying. I would gladly trade places with Bottas! He gets to drive, not only in F1, but in the best car in F1!)

      1. Surprised by most comments and while I agree that Bottas has most to lose, Russell is not spared.

        He has shined on Saturday’s but Sunday’s performance are not as bright, he’s not putting the kind of gap to his team mate Bianchi was (in a similar situation battling in the rear), and more importantly he has made costly mistakes on several occasions when he had a shot to points. Can’t recall every of them but I think he has been in the gravel trap in Austria, he crashed under SC and has not been able to capitalise when the opportunity arose. Russell has to let go of the pressure and accept that coming 4th might be a better result than going off when leading with Verstappen putting him under pressure.

        Bottas is a known quantity and has the pressure to be in front of Russell. Russell biggest threat is actually himself.

        1. Yes I agree, theres a certain amount of whitewashing of Mr Saturdays Sunday performance. Mistagain Sunday would be more opt.

          Before Qually was even on telly AND so important to the race, drivers would shrug at a decent Saturday qually as theres

          ‘ no points on Saturday’.

          Now with qually probably better than the race sometimes, the media and fans seem infatuated with one lap qually times. Its super important but not if you follow it up on Sunday with

          ‘atrocious starts’

          , binning it under SC or losing places going wide when in a points place. Anyway sliding doors moment for him this weekend

          1. @tonymansell Agreed. I would think the most pressure is on GR’s shoulders this weekend. He’s yet to really show anything on a Sunday and most of this can be excused by having a bad car underneath him. If he doesn’t have a good race in a car that is 90% likely to win the race, there will be some real question marks.

          2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
            2nd December 2020, 21:00

            Looking forward to this comment ageing fast!

    4. It is like when Andreas Mikkelsen drove for Skoda in 2017 in WRC, but the other way round.

    5. Bottas is under pressure for two reasons: (i) Russell cannot beat him and (ii) Verstappen cannot beat him either. If Max beats him the fight for second place in the championship will be very much alive for the last race and will make Max (and Lewis) look good but if Russell beats him in one try it will be hard for Bottas to retain his seat when his current contract expires.

      I expect Russell to do well on Saturday despite lack of running in 2020 Mercedes but he should find it hard getting off the block well on Sunday and should find himself fighting with Racing Points and Renaults by the end of Lap 1.

  2. I think it’s only because that Bahrain has strict quarantine rule. Vandoorne can’t get early enough to comply with it. But the same rule also make Lewis likely missed two races.

    If Russel to drive at Merc twice, the first outing result should not be a fair comparation to Bottas. No talent can beat years of experience of how the team operate and how the car behave. The second one though, will be very interesting.

    1. Crofty discussed this on Friday, they turned up, swabbed at airport. App notification the next day, BAU.

      Vandoorne was supposedly scheduled to be at this race anyway. So I doubt it’s to do with Bahrain’s rules

  3. I do not think Bottas deserves to be removed from Mercedes yet, but given that the W11 was built around him and Hamilton, he should have a huge advantage over Russell. We have seen how unsuitable cars, in spite their overall speed, can cause problems for the drivers like the situations Vettel, Gasly and Albon have had. However, if Bottas does not deliver this weekend and possibly Abu Dhabi, that will just ignite questions about his performance. I am sure though Bottas will take care of business.

    We will finally see if the bandwagon statement is true: “Anyone can win in the W11”.

    1. Anyone can win in that car as long as they get more than a couple days preparation. Bottas would struggle massively relative to Russell in a Williams.

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        2nd December 2020, 11:15

        That’s true but it’s also why if Russell does prove to be a match for Bottas, it can be reasonably assumed that with equal experience in the car, Russell is the faster driver. Considering Hamilton’s on his way out of F1 soon, perhaps Mercedes need to stop focusing on what Hamilton wants and start focusing on what the team needs – an elite level driver to take over the number 1 seat.

        1. +1. Sounds familiar.

      2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        2nd December 2020, 17:53

        Qualification to your statement. “Anyone can win in that car as long as Lewis is not in the other one!”
        Mercedes will stop focusing on what Lewis wants when Lewis stops winning championships and constructors for them, i.e. when he announces his retirement. Till then you would be nuts to ignore what Lewis wants and Toto ain’t nuts. Toto is focussing on what the team needs by filling Lewis’s seat with Russell for one or two races because, you know he can do both, being one of the very best team principles in F1 history.
        This isn’t hard guys! Lewis will drive at least another 2 years and both Bottas and Russell’s contracts are up in 2021. This weekend and possibly next is all about who runs alongside Lewis in his last or second to last year.

        1. petebaldwin (@)
          2nd December 2020, 19:09

          @davewillisporter – My point wasn’t about replacing Lewis now. It was about picking someone to drive in the other car. Either they go with the driver Lewis wants (Bottas) and keep things as they are or they go with a youngster who might give him a much harder fight on the basis that when Lewis retires, they’ll have Russell fully up to speed already.

          1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
            2nd December 2020, 19:57

            @petebaldwin – Toto tried to do that by asking Claire to release George from his 2021 obligation. She said no. Now he has managed to get George and has chosen him over Stoffel so what you ask he should do, he has already tried to do twice, the second time being successful.
            There is a myth that Lewis wants a subservient second driver. It’s just that. A myth. See my other posts on this thread as to what the selection criteria for the second seat are. Summary: Lewis wants to be pushed on track, no bumper cars antics a la Max and Daniel Baku 2018 (where Daniel was quicker but Max used his car as a battering ram to stay ahead) no politics off track and no bad team atmosphere. Both Lewis and Toto are in agreement on this criteria.
            Lewis has supported George since F3, giving him advice on how to drive the tyres to solve some of George’s problems when he hit a development wall. George credits Lewis for starting to win again and smashed F3 and F2 as a result of his mentoring. Lewis would be quite happy to see George in the other seat. You can draw parallels between George and Lewis and Massa and Schumi. Above all, Lewis wants to be challenged, just not in a toxic political way like Nico and Alonso.
            What you are way off beat on is Toto should stop focusing on Lewis and think to the future. That speaks volumes of a lack of understanding of just how central Lewis is to Mercedes AMG F1. He is Schumi now and people need to think of him in that framework. Lewis can help George become the future just like Schumi tried with Massa.
            I really really hope, at some point people come to the realisation that Lewis is the team and the team is Lewis.
            We agree on George needing to be brought into the fold. We disagree on how and why. That is my point.

    2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 17:56

      Anyone can win in the W11, so long as the other driver is not Lewis Hamilton!
      If the other driver is Lewis Hamilton, that list shrinks way down!

      1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        2nd December 2020, 18:20

        And if you’re talking about a title fight over a season, only one or two and the smart money for the next 2 or 3 years would still go to Lewis.
        I come across a common misconception amongst the F1 community and that is, things don’t evolve. Well, they do! Alonso is no longer the most complete driver on the grid, Lewis isn’t headstrong and petulant, doesn’t drive a loose back end and doesn’t eat tyres. Lewis is by far the most complete driver on the grid both in and out of the car (the out bit is crucial, look at Alonso’s career compared to Lewis and Schumi)
        Many credit Max with being “the fastest” or “the best” on the current grid. It would still take him years to learn what Lewis has. He might make for an exciting season but if he tried to play power games at Merc as has happened at Redbull, he would be shut down. Merc and Lewis want the talking done on track and no-where else.
        The W11 is the best car in F1 history (until the W12 hits the tarmac – spoiler alert!) Still, Max won a race and finished second a few times. It matter’s who is in the other W11! (Tip, the guy who wins on 3 wheels, drives a masterclass of patience and judgement in extremely tricky conditions where all his main competition screwed the pooch and holds almost all the records is pretty special!)
        It’s really not just the car. Loath as I am to quote Paddy Lowe after his monumental F up at Williams, it’s 50 / 50

  4. I’m glad I’ll be watching Belgian TV and won’t have to listen to Sky F1 hyping Russel up for 3 days straight while he finishes fourth on Sunday.

    1. @paeschli Oh man, so envious of you. Can’t speak French, Flemish or German but I’d still take Belgian broadcast over Sky any day. Especially if it’s paired with Belgian beer :)

      1. Don’t forget the chocolates…

        1. I’ll advise you a chimay blue to go with the chocolate…

    2. At least they watch the race they make comments about. That Crofty thing doesn’t even know what’s going on in the race, who’s overtaking whom, or if there was an overtake at all (he imagines them sometimes). He made jokes about Giovinazzi wanting him to pronounce his name correctly (or at least being close), acting like some arrogant red coat from ages ago. Making those orgasmic sounds while talking about English drivers doing well is also a bit too much… I’m not from UK, but I’d surely find all that “neutrality” irritating as hell (that’s why I don’t watch local broadcasts btw). On the other hand, having Brundle around is nice. The rest of them could go and never be overly missed.

      1. Indeed. Croft is absolutely dreadful. Refusing to pay for Sky I manage to avoid him, but they’ve started to put more of his ‘commentary’ on the F1 youtube videos which is becoming problematic. Also Ben Edwards is retiring at the end of the year which is a great shame.

      2. I hear that. ‘Crofty’ is absolutely dire. Like a golf player who’s discovered hes brought an extra pack of pork pies instead of balls , giggling at his own inanity. I was rather hoping Ben Edwards might get the gig and if they waft enough money he may yet unretire. Thank goodness for Brundle, though he seems strangely impervious to the ‘Croftie cacknee’s’ lack of charms. I even sometimes think i’d have Blundell back if it meant he’d go, thats how much he’s disliked in our household.

        1. I remember DC and Brundle doing commentary together for a short time – that was good. Would love it if JB made a full time commentary switch but I can’t see that happening.

        2. …who’s discovered he’s brought an extra pack of pork pies instead of balls, giggling at his own inanity…

          Fave line of the year :)

          @tonymansell I couldn’t agree more though about Croft and I subscribe to Sky purely for F1 (in HD ‘only’ though), I would drop it in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for F1. Therefore If I can tolerate £45 a month for the sport I love, then I can tolerate Croft – but only because we have Brundle – but then Brundle can be incredibly tedious explaining the absolute basics of motor racing at every opportunity, “Qualifying is where the drivers establish the order for the start of the race” type stuff.

          Hmmm, how much longer can I last!?

          1. “DRS – that’s Drag Reduction System if you’re new to the sport, where a slot in the rear wing opens up…”

            Every. Single. Race. Commentary!

        3. @tonymansell

          ‘Crofty’ is absolutely dire. Like a golf player who’s discovered hes brought an extra pack of pork pies instead of balls , giggling at his own inanity.


      3. The best was 2011 with David Coulthard and Martín Brundle. Im not a fan of the old Crofty either.

    3. @paeschli

      Here in the US I miss the old NBC crew. Have watched the race in spanish a few times.
      The only thing I understand is the enthusiasm, but it is less annoying.

      I don’t see Buxton much either now, don’t know if he is gone or just gets less air time, but he always seemed well informed.

      1. I think Buxton is on F1TV now, at least doing their pre/post race stuff.

      2. Seconded – those guys were great. The original speed TV line up with Bob Varsha was even better.

    4. For anyone on F1TV Pro: The pitlane channel is fantastic. Crofty-less, more technical commentary, and 3 screens.

      Of course the drawback to 3 screens is that the main screen is smaller, so it’s probably best with a big display.

    5. @paeschli Sometimes a tough choice for me as I am not really interested to hear what Vigneron has been eating with Occon the day before the race. Maybe Flemish TV is doing a better job but the French part is too much stories unrelated to the race for me. Really sad that no channel is offering minimum commentary, just adding few info unavailable to viewer, mainly letting the action and car do the talking. Have tried to watch on mute some times but ain’t the same without the sound of the cars.

    6. So it’s not just my imagination – Crofty is actually becoming more and more unbearable every race. I am going to try the pit lane channel this weekend since turning the volume down every time Crofty is spurting inane rubbish is getting quite tiresome.

    7. That’s the best thing about the F1 TV streaming service; you can select any commentary language you want, or even better, none at all. That way you can turn up the volume and just hear the cars and the track noise, plus the faint echoes of the local announcers over the PA.

  5. I have always felt that Bottas keeps the seat because he does precisely what Mercedes want him too in that he provides a solid reliable driver who will accept being second if it is required.

    That said he has had some very poor performances this season and if Russell makes him look bad this weekend it has to make that seat look less safe.

    I’m expecting Max to be Bottas’s main worry as Russell might take time to totally adapt to the car.

    It’s going to be very interesting no matter what ;)

    1. @nullapax It’s difficult to look good next to Hamilton who is almost always on maximum performance. Verstappen has had plenty awful races too, but he still doesn’t look so bad compared to the utterly awful performances of Albon

  6. My perfect F1 format would be one where all the teams pay into a driver pot an amount which is a certain percentage of their spending. Drivers drive a different teams car at each race. Drivers earn money similar to constructors based on their points scored.
    This is the only way we will get to know without a doubt who the best driver and best car is.

    1. Totally agree! Me and my son have discussed this and added the idea of a relegation/promotion system too for F2 drivers and F1 stragglers at the end of the season. Revolutionary I know but we love the idea !

    2. Except, that isn’t F1. Nor should that be what F1 is.

      We all forget that F1 (or Motorsport) is one of the few sports where there are two different things at stake. For the teams, the only thing they care about is the constructors, and having the best drivers in thier car to win it. For them, the drivers title is secondary.

      The drivers championship exists for the drivers and for the fans. It is where the glory is, but not the teams budgets.

      This idea of knowing who the best car and best driver is, is a fan argument, not a sporting one and it’s unlikely to make F1 any more interesting.

      F1 just needs to get it’s playing field more level and then we will have a fairer comparison anyway

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        2nd December 2020, 13:25

        “For the teams, the only thing they care about is the constructors”
        Why do we have team orders?

        1. Why do we have team orders?

          So that the team can maximize their points haul.

          1. Jose Lopes da Silva
            2nd December 2020, 17:13

            How did the switch between Schumacher and Barrichello in Austria 2001 last lap maximized Ferrari’s points haul?
            How did the switch between Schumacher and Barrichello in Austria 2002 last lap maximized Ferrari’s points haul?
            How did the switch between Hamilton and Bottas in Russia 2015 last lap maximized Mercedes’ points haul?

          2. @Jose Lopes da Silva 2018, not 2015, but same place.

          3. Jose Lopes da Silva
            2nd December 2020, 19:07

            @jerejj thanks, couldn’t edit

    3. @aliced We will know who’s adapts to a different car most quickly, and which cars are easiest to adapt to, nothing else.

      Other aspects of drivers and cars are much more important than that.

    4. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 13:05

      @aliced That’s the W series format more or less except all the cars are identical. Each driver drives each chassis once.

    5. To make that work you would have to make the cars more like spec cars. Just think about the difficulty George Russell will have learning about all the buttons and modes on the steering wheel. He has to get his head around DAS also. Apart from the car you have to form a relationship with your engineer so you can get the most out of the car.

      1. At least it’s just one engine mode now!

  7. The circuit this weekend is perfect to test the raw speed of both Russell and Bottas. Unless Mercedes decides to play safe with the machinery, I think this will be career defining moments for both drivers.

  8. Need to keep in mind this weeeknd could be somewhat bonkers due to the sub 55-second lap time. Looks like there will be only 4 braking points in the whole lap.

    I expect a very close field during quali and all sorts of excuses afterwards about traffic and tire preparation and a lack of energy recovery.

    Could be a messy weekend which could hurt either Bottas or Russell.

    1. Totally agree. This weekend’s circuit is not going to be a good test of driver ability, more of engine reliability. Whilst I wish Sir Lewis of Monaco good health, I hope it takes a couple of weeks to get clear COVID tests for him.

    2. Jose Lopes da Silva
      2nd December 2020, 13:26

      However, the balance needed plus, and especially, the extra reliance on power, should increase Mercedes lead.
      Russell should be in the first row of the grid.

    3. @aussierod I foresee a blue flag fest in the race, and the first lapping to take place around lap five without an early neutralization.

    4. @aussierod Either way I don’t want to see race engineers tell to these new drivers just to get out of the way. If Russel, Fittipaldi or Aitken is behind their teammate and they have the speed I want them to race. Of course Bottas, Magnussen and Latifi are this weekends n.1 drivers and they get the optimum strategy over their newer teammates.

  9. As a Bottas fan I’m glad about this. Hamilton has clearly performed better than Bottas, but I’m assuming that is because Hamilton is the best driver at the moment and he has mastered the current tyres. I don’t think any driver (possibly excluding Verstappen) could have done better against Hamilton. It will be good to see how Bottas performs against another driver in the same car.

    Obviously Bottas has advantage, since he is familiar with the car. But Russell hasn’t lost against his team mate in any qualifying so far, so beating him won’t be a walk in the park nevertheless. I’m happy if Bottas wins Russell in both qualifying and race. If he doesn’t, it will be hard to justify his race seat at Mercedes.

    I hope neither Bottas or Russell will have technical problems or bad luck this weekend.

    1. @hotbottoms “I don’t think any driver (possibly excluding Verstappen) could have done better against Hamilton.”

      Wait, Bottas is not the third best driver on the grid though. I think quite a few drivers could have done better than Bottas against Hamilton. Not necessarily better than Hamilton, but better than Bottas against him.

      1. But as you said

        I think quite a few could have done better

        @macaque, well, that’s just your opinion against that of @hotbottoms, who also said she/he was glad to see this, presumably to test their belief Bottas is close to the best of the grid.

        As such, I definitely agree, it would be good to see a sort of straight shootout weekend between them, even with all the asterisks. I also think not many people disagree with the article that Bottas has most to lose in it.

    2. James Whiteley
      3rd December 2020, 18:32

      I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Bottas fan :P

  10. Obviously I doubt it will bother him much but this is almost definitely the end of Russell’s qualifying record.

  11. agree!

    minor point in the article it says GP3 is now F3?
    F3 has been there throughout when GP3 was around, right?

    1. Yep, it was European F3 when GP3 was there. But the series both have merged, because Euro F3 was getting better and better with excellent drivers such as Ocon and Verstappen, so FIA saw that as a threat I guess and on the financial side it just made sense to have just one series below F2. FIA got what they wanted with the death of Formula V8 3.5, which is on category only below F1, one below F2… But still there’s lot of F4

    2. Tommy Scragend
      2nd December 2020, 10:44

      Yes it has, in a way. The previous FIA Formula 3 European Championship and GP3 merged to form what is now the FIA Formula 3 World Championship.

      Formula 3 had been around for donkey’s years before that, with various series, but following the merger I guess it’s not wrong to say that GP3 is “now Formula 3”.

  12. Bottas will easily beat him. Very hard to jump into a car and perform. Hulkenberg couldn’t get close to Stroll, Fisichella struggled massively going to Ferrari in ’09

    1. Hulk was faster than stroll in the second race and he didnt know the car and he was a long time outside racing. Russell will be on it from the start but Bottas is both an experienced and capable driver. I except Russell to push Bottas about as hard as he pushes Hamilton

      1. @chrisgalaz The “first” race Stroll beat Hulkenberg. The “second” race Stroll was the one replaced.

        1. @f1osaurus Really? So what about the third race Hulkenberg did?

          1. First race at Silverstone Stroll outqualified Hulk (6th to 13th) but Hulk couldn’t start the race due to technical issue. Second race Hulk outqualified Stroll (3rd to 6th) and ran ahead of him in the race until having to pit an extra time (tyre vibrations I believe). 3rd race Hulk came in at last moment and qualified last, but made his way up to 8th in the race while Perez was 4th.

          2. @keithedin Hulkenberg has never qualifed 3rd this season what are you talking about.

          3. Dave (@davewillisporter)
            2nd December 2020, 17:19

            The Hulk put it third on the grid for the 70th Aniversary GP at Silverstone.

          4. He “did” only 2 races

  13. It’s for Bottas to lose, if Russell even gets close Bottas will not have a chance of getting another Merc deal in 2022.

  14. I think that if Russell beats Bottas convincingly then that would also harm Hamilton’s bargaining position in his negotiations for a new contract.

    1. Nah, even if Hamilton was only equal to Bottas in qualifying record, it’s his relentless consistency of being there almost every weekend, every race that really sealed his 7th championship (which in itself is a big marketing advantage too) @exeviolthor, so for Russell to beat Bottas on a track that’s quite the outlier says little about how he’d fair against Hamilton, but it does put in perspective how well (or not) Bottas is performing his job.

      1. I am not suggesting that by beating Bottas Russel will show that he can beat Hamilton.
        Just that it is a good indication that he can win the championship if Bottas is his teammate.
        And this would definitely harm Hamilton’s efforts to get the contract he wants.

    2. @exeviolthor – You’re not the only person to say something like this in the comments the past few days. But really, outside of The Next Hamilton showing up, I cannot see anything else that is going to hurt Hamilton’s contract negotiations. He owns (or will soon own) all the records. He’s not getting worse, he’s getting better. And to top it off, Bottas is the driver getting 1-yr contracts, not Hamilton.

      So Hamilton is on his best form, owns the F1 field, and produces results. The team wants him over his teammate. George Russel may be a handy driver (imo, I’m not sure how great he is yet, time will tell), but he does not seem to be the second coming of MSC, HAM, SEN, or even VER jr.

      It will be nice to see a young driver from the back of the pack get a chance in the best car. But of the two current resident Merc drivers, Hamilton is the only one with nothing to lose.

  15. I’m glad Mercedes have but an authentic prospect in Lewis’s seat. They didn’t need to. Good for the fans.

    I don’t rate Bottas at all, but he does have the advantage of knowing the car and the team, and he can put together a decent qualifying lap on occasion. I think Russell has a serious chance of beating him.

    I don’t agree that being within 0.5s is good enough. We are talking about a driver that is race fit, with Mercedes simulator time, and who has dominated his (admittedly weak) teammates at Williams. I would be amazed if he is more than a couple of tenths back in qualifying, and would fully expect him to shadow Bottas in the race (Bottas has been notably weak at tyre management and overtaking).

    1. I don’t agree that being within 0.5s is good enough

      Also, it is a sub-55 second lap. On such a short lap, anything more than 2-3 tenths behind is not good enough.

      1. I think 2-3 tenths would still be too generous on a track with relatively few braking zones and corners.

        Ideally Russell needs the Abu Dhabi GP as well for a proper comparison on a representative circuit but Lewis will probably be good to race by then and he won’t volunteer his seat to MB for this reason.

        1. I wonder about that though, with Hamilton having mentioned he’s happy to have to do less travelling etc, there might be a slight chance @chimaera2003, even if his competitive nature might stop him from actually doing that.

  16. Good news – that is the perfect way to assess Russell (overhyped as hell IMO) and compare Bottas to someone who is not 7-time world champion in his best form ever. Either way, we should learn something.

    Unfortunately, this season showed us again, how meaningless it is to be a reserve driver – first Hulk, now Aitken chosen in place of sick drivers is unfair and probably massively frustrating for contracted 3rd drivers.

    1. But Aitken is the Williams reserve driver, isn’t he? And Haas is using the reserve driver as well. It’s just Vandoorne who is again set aside (sorry, not sorry?).

  17. It’s a fight to the ‘finnish’ [apologies]
    Mr Dull As Dishwater in the blue corner, to take on Mr Promising But Can Bin It Any Minute in the red corner.
    Place your bets ladies and gents:
    11/7 Bottas to crash out
    3/2 Russell to make the grid in one piece Sunday morning.

    1. Who is in the red corner? Leclerc, Verstappen or Russel?

      1. That’s a bit harsh on Max..

        1. Did you watch Styria breaking his front wing an P2 to Bottas? That Hungary warm up lap (making it to the grid in one piece you say)? Monza unable to setup the car? Turkey?

          Is that really any different to what went wrong with Leclerc or Russel this season?

  18. If Russell does well on Sunday (i.e. he wins or at least beats Bottas) then surely it makes Lewis’ MASSIVE contract negotiations a little more tricky? It may also support the wide-spread feeling that Lewis owes so much to the car. That said, Russell will probably just dump it into the wall or have Verstappen crash into him – the kid’s not had much luck lately.

    Either way, roll on Sunday!

    1. @joshgeake This race will be pivotal to Lewis’ next contract and will ultimately dictate his salary.

      If Russell blitzes Bottas to the same extent then MB will drive Lewis demands down or employ Russell leaving Lewis without a competitive F1 option. If by having Russell in the car, this allows Verstappen (or anyone else) to win the race then his high salary for the extra tenths of a second will look justified.

      1. Let’s be honest though – it’s all fairy tale thinking.

    2. @joshgeake

      We think about Bottas as the driver who would be replaced. But it is Hamilton who doesn’t have a seat next year. It is Hamilton who is nearing the end of his career. And Hamilton has the pricy contract – Russel could be >20 million cheaper than Hamilton.

      It is Hamilton who has Covid and, despite the good outcomes for Stroll and Perez, could have his driving ability impacted. He is still fairly young and super fit, so hopefully that doesn’t happen.

      There is also the possibility of Hamilton doing a Nico Rosberg.

      All this said, I think Hamilton will be back next year. I think he is a tremendous asset to Mercedes. I think his celebrity adds more than F1 points, and even a winning driver will struggle to replace him.

      But there is a possibility Russell could do well, Merc could lower the offer, and Hamilton walk away. All things must end, sometimes before we expect.

      1. PS – this isn’t even about Bottas. As much as I like him, several drivers could replace him. Russell probably would have in 2022 anyway. They don’t need him in the car for two races to know he is at least as good as Bottas.

        What Mercedes really needs to know is if he can replace Hamilton.

    3. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 13:29

      Nope and Nope!
      Beating Bottas over the course of a weekend is one thing. Having the consistency to virtually guarantee Merc both championships in 2021 is a whole other ballgame.
      Also think what a driver does that you don’t see too. Lewis is massive for marketing, bringing in sponsors, car development, team motivation, media attention. Add to that the massive loyalty Daimler Benz has to Lewis, Toto’s unswerving belief in him and the fact he is the only driver to beat Michael’s record makes one weekend’s performance seem rather insignificant! The attention on Merc in 2021 will be incredible as the 8th WDC is fought and I’m not just talking about within F1. The whole worlds media will be following towards the end of the season. (Lewis’s victory lap after the 7th included US CBS news and The Late Show with Steven Colbert.) No other driver on the grid has such universal penetration.
      I’m hoping George smashes it, grabs pole and wins but it will have absolutely no effect on Lewis’s negotiations. It will have a massive effect on Bottas’s 2022 seat though!

      1. @davewillisporter You maybe right but the same people who need to sign Lewis contract off have just last week announced 10,000 job losses so there will be massive sensitivities here. You just can’t divorce these two issues and all reasonable routes to achieve cost reduction will be diligently looked into.

        Perhaps the MB board can justify the salary on the media kudos alone (you publicity you mentioned is unique in F1 terms) but you would need a rock solid business case to tell 10,000 laid-off employees that you are going to spend $50m+ (I bet it is that high once all bonuses are considered) on one guy who is already very wealthy.

        It is absolutely possible that the media kudos is going to be worth the cost, I heard that in 2014 the equivalent advertising value of MB being F1 world champions was $2bn (well in excess of money invested). It is that their PR team will need to bring their A-game after the decision has been made.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          2nd December 2020, 14:19

          @chimaera2003 That has already been factored into the negotiations a long time ago. Lewis mentioned it a few races in and consistently stated he didn’t want to negotiate a (high priced) contract in the midst of world suffering. My guess is a lower salary but win bonus bigger to make it more palatable for PR. His current salary of 35M does not include bonuses and any future salary (rumours of 45M) will not include bonuses, that’s how the F1 salary structure works. (Salary plus bonuses) but the fact remains, no matter what Russell does this weekend Lewis’s negotiations will be unaffected and there is absolutely no way Russell will replace Hamilton in 2021. None! (Unless Lewis breaks a leg or something!) Bottas on the other hand? It will have a massive impact on what Merc decide to do with the other seat in 2022 (when both Bottas and Russell are out of contract) if George beats him in Bahrain, or even Abu Dhabi if Lewis tests positive towards the end of the 10 day quarantine. Bottas and Russell will be the ones under pressure this weekend. Lewis’s only worry will be watching on TV thinking “please don’t smash my car” as I’m sure he gets to keep it at the end of the season!

          1. @davewillisporter

            Interesting point about the car. The resale value is mostly emotional. if Russell smashes the car the value goes way way down because it is broken. But if he smashes Bottas, the value of the car goes up a little, because it isn’t just Hamilton’s 2020 title ride, it is the car Russel gets his first podium or whatever.

  19. It is very possible that Hamilton will leave F1 after this season and at least will skip 1 season, if not retire. So Russell city stay in Mercedes next year without being a threat to Bottas.

    1. @regs Well Russell would still be a serious threat to Bottas’s championship bid under that scenario, if not his seat. But it would surely be a rare (unparalleled?) career mistake for Hamilton to skip the next season. It’s his clearest chance to win 8 championships and stretch the qualifying and race win records past 100. If he wants to retire, fair enough, that can’t be called a mistake, it’s a choice. But if he intends to come back, or changes his mind after a year and decides to return, it would make little sense to miss 2021 at Mercedes.

    2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 13:36

      Where does this idea that it is “very” possible Lewis will not drive next year come from? Lewis has said he will drive next year and wants to drive the 2022 cars. Toto says Lewis will drive next year. Daimler Benz CEO “We support Lewis in his efforts on and off the track” Toto and Lewis “We just need to sit down and work out a few details, took 10 hrs last time and we had Pizza afterwards” It’s that safe a bet!!!
      Lewis (one flippant comment in a press conference) “I don’t even know where I’ll be next year” The world goes nuts!
      Lewis will be on the grid in 2021 and “very” likely 2022, maybe even 2023.
      What is “very” unlikely is no Lewis next year!!!

  20. This is great for Mercedes, the exposure of a junior driver in the car is huge and the fact that this covid case of Hamilton no way effects the championship means game on, let them race.

  21. I think Russell will have two race weekends replacing Hamilton, not one, and that could be a big difference. It gives him a real chance to focus, work closely with the team, and prove his talent without it being entirely ‘all or nothing’. Conversely, Bottas has to reawaken having clearly drifted off in terms of motivation and slumped on Sunday (and had a bad race in Turkey prior to that). I’m not sure he can. He won’t know what level he has to perform at to beat Russell possibly until it’s too late. If Russell adapts over Friday practice, he’ll have the lure of a first race win motivating him. I can see this being Russell v. Verstappen.

    I also get the impression this was always Mercedes’s contingency plan for one of their drivers coming down with Covid over this season. Best wishes to Hamilton in his recovery.

    1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 13:40

      @david-br Possibly. Lewis has to quarantine for 10 days and I believe he started that on Monday. If he tests negative after 10 days he makes it to Abu Dhabi for Thursday before race day. A further positive test on the 10th day, he misses Abu Dhabi.

      1. @davewillisporter Depends also on the local quarantine restrictions both in Bahrain and the UAE.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          2nd December 2020, 18:32

          @jerejj He’s good! So long as he has a negative test before flying he can make Abu Dhabi. A negative test is not a given though, different people take different periods of time to shake it. Let’s not forget Lewis said after Bahrain he found it a very tough race. I suspect he was suffering some symptoms without realising it. Recovery is key.

  22. If GR beats VB, it won’t look great for LH

    1. @theessence I’m guessing most people would expect Verstappen to walk in and match or beat Bottas. So I think it would just confirm Russell is indeed a talented driver and future champion prospect, precisely what Mercedes need.

      Mercedes will have two sets of information: how Russell performs under qualifying pressure and in the race. And how Russell actually drives the car, lap after lap, on various tyres, in various circumstances, around what corners, under what fuel loads etc. And that will tell them as much or even more about him than whether he beats Bottas or not.

      1. Agreed, they already know VBs standard, and are happy to keep him on for whatever reason that is… But what I’m saying is that if Russell finishes ahead of VB it’ll further push the point that anyone can win in that car.

        Personally I think it’s extremely unlikely for Russell to have the upper hand in such a short space of time anyway- even though I rate Bottas as mediocre and Russell as promising.

        If Bottas destroys Russell, LH will look even better! (And will probably have a stronger hand at the negotiation table).

        I don’t think Lewis would accept the smoke from a young driver like Russel or Leclerc, not in the way that Vettel or Verstappen would. The day that comes I think he’ll call it a day, why not.

        1. I struggle to understand your point.

          How can anyone win in that car if Bottas can’t? LH won’t lose out if Russel beats Bottas, except maybe if Russel laps the whole field, that would turn some heads, but if Russel beats Bottas, it is Bottas who has his seat shaking.

          1. Anyone can win in that car against any other car, if Hamilton didnt exist Bottas would be the one getting all the wins, poles and championships, so yeah anyone can win in that car. Not anyone can beat Lewis too.

          2. Spot on Peyton

        2. @theessence I just don’t think the metric for whether Hamilton looks good or not is someone else winning in the same car or beating Bottas. All drivers are beatable. It’s Hamilton’s consistency under intense pressure in a title bid that any pretender needs to match – and not even Verstappen has really answered that question yet. I agree it’s a risk for Russell, if he gets destroyed by Bottas, it will be a negative. But I don’t see that happening. How would Lewis respond to Russell or Leclerc (or Verstappen!)? He’d do everything to win and probably would. In all ways, really, it’s perfect for Russell that it’s Hamilton he is replacing. Hamilton hadn’t relented on a season that was already over last weekend. He was still on a peak. Bottas was clearly already off the pace in an end of term performance, though. He’ll now have to refocus in a pressure situation. Which I think is excellent. It’s been too easy for him to secure that number 2 spot knowing that everyone knows few drivers are really even remotely close to Hamilton’s level. Russell may be in that category, though.

        3. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          2nd December 2020, 18:45

          @theessence You don’t really understand what motivates Lewis. If he has a teammate that pushes him on track he’s up for it, completely. You can see his eyes light up in interviews when he talks about the competition. It’s why he is so good and has smashed all the records. He absolutely loves the competition.
          What he does not remotely like is a bad team atmosphere. He experienced it in his first year at McLaren with Alonso, occasionally with Button at McLaren (Yes, Jenson did play a bit of politics at McLaren from time to time) and again with Nico in Mercedes who openly admits to learning how to rattle teammates from his time with Schumi and using it against Lewis.
          Both Lewis and Toto will not accept another potentially toxic team environment. They judge potential drivers on those merits. Alonso got the Nope for obvious reasons. Daniel clashed with Max on track and didn’t solve the problem off track (not his fault IMHO, Redbull were already biased towards Max) Then you have Seb vs Webber, not great.
          One important thing to note is Merc tried to recruit Max but Max chose Redbull as there was an immediate seat available at Torro Rosso. Merc were quite happy to see Max with a bit of experience alongside Lewis. Having seen how Max played bumper cars with his teammate, they weren’t enthusiastic after the fact!
          If George Russell proves to be every bit the fast racer that he appears to be both Lewis and Toto would have no hesitation in putting him in the second car, and the reason why him over others? His temperament. No politics, do your talking on the track and don’t play bumpercars with your teammate.
          That’s the ethos and mentality behind the decisions.

  23. That’s great news. Mercedes finally doing something exciting with their drivers. Maybe they want a trump card in the contract negotiations with Hamilton?
    I really do rate Russell highly (at least quite a lot higher than Bottas) and as much as I hope Hamilton recovers quickly I’d dearly like to see Russell racing in Abu Dhabi as well.
    Hülkenberg needed two races to beat Stroll so in my opinion a Bottas – Russell comparison would be difficult after just one race on an odd track.

    1. Maybe they want a trump card in the contract negotiations with Hamilton?

      Dude, Lewis is a 7th time world champion…

      1. And so is his salary I would guess.

  24. Great opportunity to Russel finally shine. Great kid, great driver. Something that is going to play in his hands is the new track layout, which is easy to learn and set up the car. Good luck to him!

  25. Jose Lopes da Silva
    2nd December 2020, 13:36

    I’m expecting Lewis Hamilton to stay for another year. He has a once in a lifetime chance not to equal but to surpass Schumacher to the World Championship record.
    I’m not sure if Mercedes will decide according to the data of two races. Bottas will feel the pressure, but Russell will feel it too. Given the expected superiority of Mercedes in the Outer Ring, he should be very, very close to Bottas.
    First row and podium are mandatory, especially podium. I don’t think finishing 4th behind Perez or Albon would be a good result.

    (Unless freak stuff like Bottas suffered 5 times, says Wolff).

    Anyway, this will surely be a quite interesting weekend.

  26. Why couldn’t Lewis test positive months ago and give everyone else a chance?!

    Delighted for George, but it’s a bigger step up from Williams to Mercedes than Bottas had – Valtteri’s Williams was, or should have been, a race-winner. If Russell can execute strategy, avoid silly mistakes (don’t mention Acque Minerali) and compete with Bottas and Verstappen he could be a winner by Sunday evening.

  27. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    2nd December 2020, 13:52

    Big think everyone is missing here is in referencing how The Hulk did to this situation. He had virtually no practice time and was race rusty. George is not only an integral part of the Merc family, he has tested for them, drives the 2020 Merc PU and will have a full Friday and Saturday practice as well.
    George is an uber boffin geek when it comes to preparation. He will have been told yesterday and that’s the only thing in the universe he will think of from now until Friday. He has the opportunity to sit with the team from now until then and suck up everything he needs to be good straight away on Friday AND Lewis has mentored him on tyre preservation! I think he will run Bottas extremely close and maybe beat him in either qualy, the race or both.
    Either way and speaking as a lifelong Lewis fan, I’m as exited for the next race as I am at the start of a new season! Can’t wait!

    1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 13:54

      “excited” !! Wish there was an edit function!

    2. @davewillisporter My reaction too, it’s definitely made these one or two races interesting again (though like you responded to me above, maybe Hamillton will be back for Abu Dhabi, I’d calculated 2 weeks).

      1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        2nd December 2020, 17:25

        @david-br Someone in the thread reminded me, The Hulk put it third on the grid at Silverstone 2 after a week with the team and full practice, smashing Lance! If Lewis doesn’t make it back, the last race is gonna be spicy as!

  28. Russell should finally get a point or few, great news for him. And even greater for Bottas who can now shine as nr 1.

  29. 1 race does not tell. If we look at this season and picked the 1st race only then Bottas would look better than Hamilton which he most certainly to me is not.

  30. If Russell beats Bottas then Merc should do an immediate swap and into next year.
    Bottas has had more than enough chances to prove himself and failed, he’s basically allowed Ham to walk off with three easy championships and it’ll happen again next year.

    Merc has always been looked on as a boring brand, and keeping Bottas does them no favours. Getting Russell in to spice things up would improve their ‘crusty old man’ image immensely!

    1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      2nd December 2020, 17:31

      “Merc has always been looked at as a boring brand” (Misses the last 7 years of F1, billions in marketing and a very successful marketing strategy to re-invigorate Mercedes Benz and AMG as the cool kids brand)
      Face palm!
      Keep up mate! Next you’ll be saying Lewis is a petulant tax dodging child and Alonso is the most complete driver. Time’s they are a changing!

      1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        2nd December 2020, 17:32

        Oops, weird random italics ???

  31. Pressure and Bottas don’t go hand well together. What exacerbates this situation is he holds all the cards and is the favorite. Having the favorite tag comes with a lot of pressure. For all we know Russell could be blindingly fast and leave Bottas 0.5 tenths in qualifying.

    Pole and the win is the only thing acceptable from Bottas this weekend.

    If Russell wins the race and Bottas is beaten by Verstappen, I really do think Toto would have no excuses for him.

  32. Finally Russell knows the difference between a SilkPurse and Snowjob

  33. Fantastic opportunity for George! It’s a tough ask to jump in the best car and show some magic. Think of Verstappen in Spain 2016. Schumacher’s debut in the Jordan and then jumping into the Benetton for Monza and blowing away Piquet. Hakkinen out qualifying Senna in Portugal in ‘93. The track layout might help him though, low downforce and unfamiliar to all the drivers. I don’t expect the Red Bull to be as close to the pace as in the first Bahrain race, think back to Monza they didn’t like the low downforce. Russell is a real talent, the odds are against him, but he can win this race! This particular layout should suit Merc and then the challenge is to beat Bottas in the car he’s been driving all season. You can do it George!

  34. Bottas to qualify on pole, Verstappen second, Russell third.
    At lights out, Max has a slow start like last time, Russell jumps him and slipstreams Bottas to the first corner, pulls out to overtake, Bottas knows he can’t let that happen, and it’s Singapore 2017 all over again, with Max once more the meat in a very expensive Mercedes sandwich that goes bad immediately…

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