Hamilton starts 2022 contract talks, hints Bottas should stay - The Race
Formula 1

Hamilton starts 2022 contract talks, hints Bottas should stay

Jun 24 2021
By Scott Mitchell-Malm

Lewis Hamilton says he has started discussions over a new Mercedes Formula 1 contract and has hinted Valtteri Bottas should be kept on as his team-mate.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton had a protracted saga last year over a new deal as his previous contracted expired at the end of 2020.

He eventually signed a one-year deal early in 2021 and both Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said they would kick the process off swiftly this year to prevent a repeat.

Hamilton said ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix there is “not a lot to say on” on his contractual situation, “just that we have started discussions and things are positive”.

Bottas’s contract also expires at the end of this year, with Wolff to choose between him or Williams driver and Mercedes protege George Russell.

There has been speculation Bottas will lose his drive so Mercedes can finally put Russell – who replaced a COVID-stricken Hamilton in last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix – in the works team full-time.

Bottas’s place in the team has come under further scrutiny during a difficult 2021 season in which he has already fallen well behind in the championship.

On the identity of his 2022 team-mate, Hamilton said: “Valtteri is my team-mate now and both of us have had ups and downs in our careers.

“But, as I said, I think he is a fantastic team-mate and I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change.”

Asked to comment on the prospect of Russell joining the team, Hamilton said: “He’s not my team-mate currently. So I don’t need to say anything about it.”

Mercedes 2017 launch

Bottas has been Hamilton’s team-mate since 2017 and forged a strong working relationship with the Briton, ably supporting Mercedes’ unbroken run of constructors’ titles without disrupting Hamilton in the way Nico Rosberg did previously. He has also been commendably close to Hamilton in qualifying – with the 0.156s average gap between them in comparable circumstances so far this year the second-smallest among team-mates.

But while Bottas is arguably the best ‘number two’ driver in F1 he has struggled to assert himself as a clear candidate to be a team leader, whereas Mercedes protege Russell is considered a potential world champion.

Last weekend Wolff admitted to a “wind-up” over Mercedes’ driver line-up after he’d said he could decide between Bottas and Russell as late as this winter.

Bottas has categorically dismissed every bit of speculation that’s emerged about his Mercedes future in recent weeks and even gone as far as saying talks haven’t even started and wouldn’t begin until after the current triple-header is finished.

“It’s not a new situation for me,” Bottas said on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring.

“I’ve been every year in the same situation that I’ve been being waiting for my future to be clear for the next year, and it’s again the same situation.

“Everyone knows how the sport works, if you make results, you will earn a place where you deserve to be.

Valtteri Bottas

“And if you don’t make results, and if the team feels like it wants to change the driver, then they change the driver. It’s very simple in this sport.

“There’s 16 races to go and the team knows what I’m capable of. They know how valuable I’ve been in there in the recent years of getting the championship.

“It’s not yet time for those discussions.”

As for Russell, this season is his third with the Williams team and the last of his original multi-year deal.

Russell said last week he is not taking anything for granted, simply claiming he is “enjoying the curiosity” of his unknown future and noting that the summer break is his ideal personal deadline.

On Thursday he added: “At the moment, I’m just focused on the driving, to be honest, no discussions have started at all.

“I’m just taking it race by race. When, the right time comes, we’ll start discussing with myself and my managers with whatever other party that may be.

“I’m just excited race by race. I’m confident I will remain in Formula 1 next year, which gives me no real concerns and this allows me to go out there and just try and do my best week in, week out, which is a really nice feeling to have, to not have any concerns with that regard.”

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