‘Russell’s cameo won’t influence Hamilton negotiations’

Michelle Foster
George Russell Mercedes

George Russell Mercedes

Having already denied that George Russell’s Sakhir outing is a “shoot-out” for Valtteri Bottas’ seat, Toto Wolff also says it will have “no influence” on contract talks with Lewis Hamilton.

Russell is racing for Mercedes at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix, called up to replace Hamilton after the reigning World Champion tested positive for Covid-19.

Hamilton’s positive test opened the door for Mercedes to have a better look at their junior driver Russell, who has been lapping at the back of the grid with Williams and is yet to score a single championship point.

The 22-year-old showed on Friday what he can do if given a better car, topping the timesheets in both Friday practice sessions.

Russell’s cameo comes at an interesting time as Mercedes have yet to lock Hamilton into a new contract with talks only expected to begin after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Wolff has denied that a strong showing from Russell could see Mercedes play hardball with the seven-time World Champion.

“We’ve discussed having George in the car,” he told the media at the Bahrain circuit. “We know what we have with Lewis and he knows what he has with the team.

“Such a situation would never be utilised as some kind of bargaining power, neither by him, nor by us – it could do both directions.

“I respect very much who he is, how he drives, his records, and whatever happens this week or next has no influence on our talks.”

He added: “This weekend and maybe next weekend that will be giving us more information in our overall understanding of George’s performances but we know that we race next year with Lewis and Valtteri and where we are in 2022 is all going to depend how our own season in 2022 is going to go, and not by George’s performance on an oval in Bahrain and on a season finale in Abu Dhabi.”

George Russell Mercedes

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As for his contract talks with Hamilton, Wolff says those are on hold while the 35-year-old is in self-isolation.

He said: “Well, the timeline is being pushed back until he recovers. We know that we need to get it done, pretty well aware, both of us but the priority now is him getting back on his feet and being back negative.

“And then we will meet, or Zoom, in order to put pen to paper.”

Wolff has previously denied that Russell’s run could be seen a “showdown” between the Brit and Bottas for a Mercedes seat.

“No, not at all,” Wolff said. “I’ve heard this rumour and obviously you can’t call it a shoot-out when it’s about one or two races. That doesn’t give you any meaningful data whatsoever.

“If George does well it’s an indication that one day he’s going to be in a good car and hopefully race for victories and World Championships – but that is far away. He knows that.

“He just needs to do a solid job, not make any mistakes, and continue what he has done.

“There is no shootout. We have total trust in Valtteri and loyalty as we’ve always had – and that is our position.”

Asked how he would deal with Bottas if the Finn is beaten by Russell this weekend, Wolff insisted he wouldn’t have to spend time placating his driver.

“Valtteri has never been anybody that needs reassuring,” he said. “He knows where he stands, he knows his position in the team, how we are supportive of each other and we have to remain realistic.

“George is a highly-rated young driver, one of the most highly rated, so it’s expected for him to be fast. He knows the team and this is a fifty-second circuit where you need to be in the right place at the right time with the right engine modes.

“In that respect, this is just going to be alright. We all expected George to be right there, and we see how the weekend ends.”

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