Wolff would pick Russell as third driver over Max

Jon Wilde
George Russell Mercedes

George Russell

He probably wanted to avoid fanning the flames of speculation but Toto Wolff has said if Mercedes could have a third car, George Russell would drive it.

Not Max Verstappen.

The question was posed to the Mercedes F1 co-owner and team principal as part of Formula 1’s Grill The Grid series, in which drivers and their bosses are put on the spot with some fun challenges and questions.

The latest involved a collection of team principals being asked that if they could have a third car on the grid, which driver from the crop of 2021 would they have to pilot it given a free choice.

Whereas some of his counterparts offered some playful reasoning to their replies, it appeared Wolff was in no mood to elucidate.

His answer consisted of two words: “George Russell.”

Russell is, of course, generally believed to be next in line for a Mercedes seat if one is vacated by Sir Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas, potentially as early as next year.

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Both of the World Champions’ current drivers are only contracted for this season and, for different reasons, their respective futures are expected to become clearer in the later part of the summer – Hamilton’s in terms of whether he decides the time has come to retire, Bottas’ depending on his performances.

Of course, the most obvious answer to the question would be Max Verstappen, and that is whom McLaren CEO Zak Brown picked out, giving the explanation that “he’s aggressive – I used to race against his dad, and his dad was very good”.

Verstappen has been linked with Mercedes as a potential long-term successor to Hamilton, but Wolff was clearly unwilling to stoke up any more rumours about the Red Bull driver with whom his team are in the midst of what looks like being a fiercely-contested World Championship battle.

Alpine’s executive director Marcin Budkowski, meanwhile, also gave another vote to Russell to pilot a theoretical third car alongside Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

“I think they’re all pretty tied in but maybe George isn’t, so George, if you’re watching this, if Toto hasn’t come back to you yet, give me a call,” joked Budkowski.

Williams team principal Simon Roberts understandably opted for Hamilton, while McLaren’s Andreas Seidl knew which side his bread is buttered as he suggested his CEO, Brown, saying: “He’s still upset that he didn’t get the chance!”

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