Toto Wolff has confirmed the decision about which of Valtteri Bottas and George Russell will drive for Mercedes next year has been made.
But the World Champions’ team principal is not yet in a position to publicly reveal which of the duo it will be.
An announcement had been anticipated during the summer break about who would partner Lewis Hamilton in 2022 – either Bottas, who has been hoping to remain for a sixth season, or Mercedes junior driver Russell, approaching the end of a three-year ‘loan’ spell at Williams.
Russell could hardly have given a better advertisement of his claims than by putting his car on the front row for the Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying second behind Max Verstappen in the wet – one place ahead of Hamilton and six in front of Bottas, who also received a five-place grid penalty for causing a collision at the previous race in Hungary.
Speaking to reporters after the qualifying session, Wolff was asked twice by the same journalist if the decision between Bottas and Russell had been made. Both times he replied “yes”, before adding on one occasion: “I’ve always been genuine with you.”
But that was as far as the Austrian would go, before offering his views on Russell’s remarkable qualifying performance.
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Wolff joked that he was “a little bit disappointed because [Russell] should have been on pole”, then confirmed the result had done nothing to influence the big decision.
“I think we know what we have with George,” said Wolff. “He’s been outstanding in the junior categories, he’s been outstanding at Williams, he’s been outstanding when he’s been [racing for Mercedes, deputising for Hamilton] in Bahrain.
“If I needed to have that ultimate proof, something would have been wrong.
“If it would have been an easy decision, we would have made it earlier because we know what we have with Valtteri and we know what we have with George.
“Both deserve to be looked after in the best possible way because both of them are part of the family and we hold them up high.
“So there are pros and cons, like with any driver line-up, and at the end there is no such thing as a perfect discussion.
“We just need to manage the situation well, with whoever driver is not going to be in a Mercedes next year, and make sure there is an exciting programme, and on the other side manage the situation internally like we’ve always had.”