Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says that a decision has already been made on which of George Russell and Valtteri Bottas will be Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 team-mate next year, even though it has not yet been made public.
Williams driver Russell is widely expected to secure the Mercedes seat and again proved his class by securing second place on the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix.
When asked after qualifying at Spa whether a decision had been made on whether it would be Bottas or Russell and it simply wasn’t being revealed, Wolff answered “yes” and later said that “other factors” had to be considered when it came to any announcement.
But with Mercedes remaining secretive about the decision, Wolff did stress that Russell’s qualifying performance would not have impacted the choice in any way.
“Today doesn’t make any difference,” said Wolff.
“We know what we have with George. He’s been outstanding in the junior categories, he’s been outstanding at Williams, he has been outstanding when he was with us in Bahrain.
“If I needed to have that ultimate proof then something would have been wrong. But the decision is also considering other factors and that’s why [it has not been announced]. Let’s see.”
While Wolff didn’t directly address these other factors, he later spoke about the need to ensure both Russell and Bottas had an “exciting programme” for 2022.
This is consistent with the suspicion that the delay in any announcement is partly down to the plans for the driver who misses out, with Bottas expected by many to move to Alfa Romeo.
“If it would have been a easy decision, we would have made it earlier because we know what we have with Valtteri and we know what we have with George,” said Wolff.
“Both of them 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.
“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 whichever driver is not going to be in a Mercedes next year and make sure that there is an exciting programme.:”
Wolff was also asked about the quality of Russell’s qualifying performance, which he described as “a brilliant lap from a brilliant young driver’.
The 23-year-old was only denied a sensational pole position by Max Verstappen’s last lap, which put him ahead by 0.321s and Wolff revealed he’d watched the onboards of the leading drivers and could see where Russell gained time.
“At La Source, he just gained so much time to everybody else because he’s the only one who is on the apex,” said Wolff.
“That’s definitely a fact of driving and also a fact of having the right setup and the tyre temperatures and the window.
“The way Williams has approached qualifying was very clever. But it needs a driver to exploit the full potential of the package, or overperform the package.
“All that came together today and we still saw a brilliant lap from a brilliant young driver.”