George Russell, Valtteri Bottas, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021

Russell’s rivals talk him up as he and Bottas dance around the obvious

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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Mercedes have decided who will be Lewis Hamilton’s team mate next year, they just aren’t ready to tell anyone about it yet.

That was the logical conclusion to draw from the stilted and awkward responses from Hamilton’s current team mate Valtteri Bottas and the driver tipped to replace him, George Russell, when the pair appeared together for an FIA press conference today at Spa-Francorchamps.

Clearly well-primed to deliver the same line to any question about their futures, they clung to it like drowning men tossed a life-preserver. “There’s no news to share yet,” dictated Bottas, which was tellingly not quite a response to the question “do you know yet what you’re doing next year”.

The same question was put to Russell. “No news to share at this stage,” he echoed. It wasn’t the last time we heard that PR-hewn line either.

If it was obvious Mercedes have made their minds up, it’s not yet certain what they’ve decided. But their approach invites the interpretation that they have decided to show Bottas the door and install Russell in his place.

Analysis: A ‘soft landing’ for Bottas may happen at an unexpected place
If Bottas were staying, there would be little reason to delay the announcement. But if he’s leaving, Mercedes need to soften that blow, keep his morale up.

A bitter Bottas, unwilling to play the role of co-operative team mate as he did at Catalunya and Silverstone, could compromise Hamilton’s championship chances. Better to keep him sweet, ensure his next move is lined up before his exit is announced – a “soft landing”, as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has previously called it. But whether that is to Alfa Romeo, as previously suggested, or elsewhere, that may take time. That may explain Toto Wolff’s shift from talking about resolving the situation in September instead of summer, as previously stated.

The more telling observations about the situation came not from the drivers at the heart of the matter, but their rivals. Notably Hamilton, who has previously talked up his relationship with Bottas (naturally – he’s won every championship going while they’ve been team mates).

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“I’ve obviously been vocal in the past about my loyalty to Valtteri and worked incredibly closely with him,” said Hamilton. “I think our working relationship is better than ever.”

Hamilton stressed his “loyalty” to Bottas
However Hamilton indicated his willingness to accept whatever Wolff has decided to do with their driver line-up.

“Toto’s a great leader and as I said in the past we always stay connected. Of course we talk about these things and naturally, we’re part of the same team, we want what’s best for the team moving forwards. We want to win more championships and so we just have conversations.

“But at the end of the day, it’s down to him and the board at Mercedes to make that decision. I’m a part of the team, so I support him whichever way they go, naturally. I’m just at the moment trying to put all my energy into doing the best I can this season.”

These sound like the words of someone who’s accepted a change is coming. Whether or not Mercedes have decided Russell is the right driver of the job, he was given a vote of confidence by two of the top drivers in F1 today.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc both served apprenticeships of, at most, little more than a year with midfield teams before joining their front-running squads. In contrast Russell is in his third season at Williams.

“For sure George is very quick and he can’t stay where he is, I think, forever,” said Verstappen. “I think he deserves more.

“At the end of the day it’s up to Mercedes to make the call, not really from my side. But for sure I rate him very high as a driver. He is, of course, still very young as well, so it’s natural that the younger guys at one point move up, especially the good drivers.”

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Leclerc also strongly backed Russell, who impressed on his one-off showing for Mercedes last year.

Russell “deserves more” than Williams, says Vertappen
“I think it’s great if George gets that seat because he deserves it,” he said. “It is always very difficult to judge in Formula 1 because the cars are so different and obviously with George being at Williams, it is always difficult to judge how much of a good job he’s doing. But he’s consistently there and showing good things.

“Also in the past I’ve raced with him and I know how strong is George. So he definitely deserve that spot and I think it will be great to have such a talented driver in that seat.”

Ever since Russell stunned F1 by almost winning his one-off race for Mercedes last year, the rumours around him taking over from Bottas have gathered momentum. If he has finally been told he’s got the gig, he’s keeping tight-lipped about it for now.

But as he admitted today, it’s an challenge he’s desperate to take on.

“As any driver wants to go up against the best and obviously Lewis is probably the greatest of all time. So you want to put yourself against [him] and see how you fare. It would be probably an honour for anybody to get that opportunity.

“That’s obviously all hypothetical at the moment. But this is the same comments as I’ve said three years ago, if I could choose to race against anybody as my team mate, Lewis would be the one.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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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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21 comments on “Russell’s rivals talk him up as he and Bottas dance around the obvious”

  1. While Alfa Romeo has been spoken of as an option for VB, I also think he could do wonders at Williams in a swap with GR, and help build them back up in this new chapter ahead.

    1. “The Alfa Romeo Retirement Home for Finnish Drivers”

      1. @dkor Their motto: To Finnish first one must first Finnish.

  2. Of course the team wants Bottas to stay, but having seen the ‘forceful’ side of Russell at Imola, they realized he might even go to the ‘enemy’ rather than accept to be kept waiting 2 more years.

    Like Keith says, it’s probably all about delaying to keep Bottas in line (which is how he’s always played), but I would say also not to upset Hamilton at this sensitive time of the championship. If Mercedes is dominant and they get a big lead now, it’s obviously easier to break the news that your new team mate will be a helmet-slapper.

    1. @balue

      I would not blame Russell’s frustration one bit and if he jumps ship to another team if Merc passes on him for another season to keep Bottas.
      He’s considered to be one of the top young drivers in F1 and he has clearly bitten his time being parked on the worst team in F1 at Merc’s request. Not knowing the details but the scuttlebutt before last years season was that they were telling him he was going to get the ride but then again gave it to Bottas. How much can he take?

      I understand Merc’s position keeping their line up and not wanting to rock the boat; that’s their right but I also don’t blame Russell saying enough, is enough and jump ship. Maybe we could see him at Red Bull or McLaren? It’s a far outside chance fro that to happen but what choice does Russell have?

      He’ll never develop as a better driver at Williams while other juniors that he regularly beat get better while driving better cars. General common sense is that Merc gives Russell the seat next to Ham but we shall see.

      1. @balue
        PS> Just to add, I can’t fathom why Mercedes would pass on upgrading Russell’s seat to 1st class and find a soft landing for Bottas with a Merc PU or AF? I would think that’s the logical choice?

        Then add the complexity of Mercedes junior line up (or lack of), for being the largest and most (recent) successful F1 team they really don’t have any good juniors on their roster after Russell other than Nyck de Vries, even though he won F2 he’s not considered a better or even equal talent to Russell and untested in F1, after that you there’s just 15 yr old Kimi Antonelli who’s still racing Kart’s (so maybe 3 yrs at best before F1 seat?). So if they lose Russell, they’ll create a vacuum in their drivers line up and potential choice replacements for Bottas or Hamilton in the next three seasons and will have no choice to recruit to outside talent.

        1. @redpill Yes exactly, so their hand is forced.

          Even with Bottas I would say, as why wouldn’t Red Bull snap him up if they could. A perfect wingman and no worse than Perez. Lots of interesting insights too. Which is why Wolff has been seen with his old mate Vasseur a lot lately. Make sure Bottas don’t go to Red Bull by getting him to sign for Alfa Romeo. Stuffing him one last time..

          1. @balue

            Would Bottas be better in a RB car than Perez? That’s an interesting question, and certainly would be some gamesmanship played by RB.

  3. The reason there is no news is because Bottas has no certain destiny yet. When he does, he will announce it, and then George will be free to announce his new seat. They are waiting for Bottas to land a place of his own.

    1. Yeah I think so – they could have even agreed a seat for Bottas already but that team isn’t ready to announce anything yet.

    2. Agree. They want Bottas to leave in a respectful way. He’ll announce his switch first, after which Mercedes will announce Russell as their 2022 driver.

      1. @todfod The opposite of respectful if Wolff’s plan is really to prevent him being snapped up by Red Bull by signing him to Alfa Romeo.

        1. @balue Well they have catched some Mercedes staff so why not also get one of their drivers. That would most certainly mean Valtteri would keep his 2nd driver status.

    3. Yes. Similar to how Massa was announced to be leaving Ferrari in 2013.

  4. But if he’s leaving, Mercedes need to soften that blow, keep his morale up.

    Every driver has to accept there is an end to the contract they are on. If Valtteri has been told he’s leaving then he can start preparing to move on. Alternatively, if George has been told he hasn’t got the seat at Mercedes he too can start looking for a better seat in F1, e.g. Red Bull, AlphaTauri, etc. Maybe Williams will have a mid-field competitive car next year, but I think if I was in George’s shoes I’d still jump and take the risk I might regret it.

  5. To stick these two together in a press conference and then ask about their futures was hardly likely to be anything other than awkward was it. Hardly news and just plain unfair on both of them.
    I feel for Bottas in a way – he got to come up against Hamilton just as he hit his peak after he’d dropped the ball against Rosberg but he’s now had enough time to lift his game but has failed so its time to move aside.

    One would hope that for the benefit of both of them Mercedes will get a move on and make the announcement. Personally, if I were Bottas, I’d go back to Williams and push them to bring a much improved offering for 2022/3 and get back to enjoying racing because I don’t think he is at the moment.

    1. @dbradock
      If you look at Bottas’ options, it honestly looks between Williams and Alfa. Williams need a George replacement and Alfa, frankly, needs to replace both their drivers.

      I would say there’s an outside chance of Red Bull considering Bottas as well. Perez hasn’t been confirmed for 2022 yet, and honestly, Perez’s season has been pretty underwhelming so far. Bottas brings in more consistency and a lot of knowledge from Mercedes to whichever team he goes to. Red Bull would find that incredibly valuable. Since Red Bull have been poaching half of Mercedes’ powertrain team, might as well poach half their driver lineup.

      1. @todfod I think the first two are pretty likely & agree that Alfa need to replace both their drivers but of the two I suspect Williams may now have the better prospects in terms of commitment.

        Dunno whether RBR would seriously look at another “external” driver to be honest. I think is they do decide to drop Perez, it probably more likely they’ll promote Gasly from within than go for yet another “almost pretty great” driver. Given the complete change to cars for 2022, I’m not sure Bottas would have a lot of knowledge to bring with him – a couple of years ago he would but now maybe not so much.

  6. Would Fred entertain a Kimi/VB combo in ’22???
    Fred is patiently awaiting Kimi’s word, & can honestly see him staying.
    BOT returning to Williams would, to me, be a mentally mega demoralising move, more so than RBR drivers being shunted back to AT.

    Meanwhile, over at McLaren, has anybody asked if the ’22 car will still be a pro-NOR style, or is their to be any in-built concession for RIC?

  7. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    27th August 2021, 9:55

    If it is confirmed that Russell will replace Bottas next year, question is how much will Bottas’ low morale cost Mercedes this year? One, or both championships perhaps?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolff has negotiated some sort of a deal with Bottas- a heavy bonus or offering to pull some strings for a ‘soft landing’- to prevent such a situation from arising.

  8. As a Finn and someone who has supported Bottas since he arrived in F1 I feel it’s the right time for Russel to be promoted, perhaps a year overdue.
    Bottas has had his chance and while I first had hoped he’d be able to challenge Hamilton after a couple of seasons at Mercedes he seems to have lost pace in comparison to him in the last couple of seasons.
    I’m looking forward to seeing Russel in the Mercedes and hoping to see close fights between him and Hamilton.

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