Toto Wolff has dropped a strong hint that Mercedes’ driver line-up for 2022 will be finalised during the summer break.
One half of the consecutive seven-time World Champions’ pairing is already known – that will be Lewis Hamilton, who recently signed a two-year contract extension.
Valtteri Bottas and George Russell are vying to be Hamilton’s team-mate, the Finn hoping a sixth year with the Silver Arrows is in the offing while the 23-year-old Briton is targeting a call-up from his current status as their most prominent ‘junior’ driver.
The smart money is on Russell, who continues to impress for the Williams team, where he is ‘on loan’ from Mercedes, and sparkled again in qualifying at the British Grand Prix by wowing the large crowd with his second consecutive Q3 appearance.
Last year, Bottas knew on August 6 that he was being kept on for another season. This time, that date falls in the summer break – something which did not actually happen during the pandemic-delayed 2020 campaign – and the latest words from Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, suggested a decision may be announced around the same time.
“I think it is important for Valtteri and George to know where they will be driving next year and that is going to happen,” said Wolff during the constructors’ press conference at the British Grand Prix.
“I expect some questions in Spa then,” he added jokingly, making reference to the Belgian Grand Prix on August 29 being the first race after the summer break.
Later speaking with Sky F1 in the paddock, he said: “It‘s a treat for the eyes to watch George. He’s in the Top 10 & almost beats the McLaren. That shows his incredible talent. A little lion in the car.”
Told that it ‘would say he deserves to be in a top car next year’, Wolff replied: “Yeah, let’s hope so.”
In his own media commitments at Silverstone, Bottas naturally insisted he sees his future with Mercedes, but also mulled over whether a switch to the World Rally Championship might be a possibility – in a sport he treats as an off-season hobby.
“I know what I want and I want to stay with the team. I think that’s the best chance for me to win races next year and fight for the title,” said the 31-year-old.
“If not for some reason, I will look at other options in F1 because I love F1, I enjoy it and I still think I have quite a good few years still ahead of me.
“Then? Never say never. Rally… I really enjoy it, it’s good fun. Whenever I’ve been in a rally car I’ve always been smiling, so it’s good fun. But to actually make a job out of it, it could be quite tricky.
“The guys there are pretty competitive, they have done it all their life. Never say never to anything, but like I said, full focus on F1.”