Russell deputised for Hamilton after the seven-time World Champion tested positive for Covid-19 and, on race day, you would have been hard pressed to find a difference between them as Russell dominated for a large portion of the race, much like Hamilton does on a regular basis.
A series of unfortunate events, though, would deny Russell the chance to win on not one, but two occasions and was forced to settle for just three points in P9 with the fastest lap to his name.
His performance across the whole weekend has only increased the calls to see Russell in the Mercedes car on a permanent basis, if not next year, then definitely in 2022.
However, despite Wolff being very complimentary about Russell’s debut display, he stressed that Hamilton was still the benchmark.
💬 "We’ll do everything we can to get Lewis in the car and we know he’s determined to be back as soon as possible."
The latest ahead of the season finale from Toto, talking LH's return and a special livery… 👀
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 9, 2020
“I think Lewis Hamilton wins so much, and many titles, because he’s the best driver in the best car at the moment,” said Wolff, as quoted by Motorsport.com.
“And we are very humble about it, because it’s not a given that we provide him with the best car.
“And that’s why we have a positive influence when the car works well to be part of his success, and we have a negative influence when our car doesn’t work.
“So it’s never a driver that makes all the difference and it’s never the car that makes all the difference, it’s the combination of the two. Lewis is still the benchmark, he’s the best driver out there.
“He has proven that with his multiple records. And we mustn’t be carried away at this stage by a phenomenal drive from a new kid who has a bright future in F1. Lewis is still the benchmark.”
Sky Sports F1 pundit, Martin Brundle, like many others, had suggested that Russell’s strong performance could be used as a bargaining tool in the continued negotiations between Mercedes and Hamilton over a new contract.
But Wolff has dismissed that notion and said that would not be fair on the World Champion.
Wolff continued: “They are two different things. Lewis has been with the team eight years, we have had great success in the past. He’s a team member.
“And I said it already before we cannot have the events this weekend interfere or change any of our negotiations.
“I think that wouldn’t be fair against him. And it wouldn’t be fair against us, because it could have gone the other way around. And a race weekend where George wouldn’t have been on pace.
“And I don’t think that he would say, ‘hold on a minute now, this is an advantage for me.’ Our relationship goes much beyond that.”