MANAMA (Reuters) – Formula One champions Mercedes are not treating this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix as a shootout between team regular Valtteri Bottas and super-sub George Russell, team principal Toto Wolff said on Friday.
Russell, a 22-year-old who is in only his second season in Formula One, has been called up to stand in for Lewis Hamilton after the seven-times world champion tested positive for COVID-19.
The highly-rated Briton, who has impressed at engine customer Williams, is seen as a talent of the future and tipped to one day drive for the main Mercedes team.
That has led to speculation that Russell’s temporary promotion, likely to carry over into the season finale in Abu Dhabi if Hamilton doesn’t return, could be a way for Mercedes to evaluate him directly against Bottas for a seat in 2022.
“There is no shootout,” Wolff told reporters via video conference on Friday.
“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.”
Bottas has won two races to Hamilton’s 11 this season but has pushed the Briton hard in qualifying.
The Finn will be out of contract at Mercedes at the end of next year which could open up at least one seat at the world champions for 2022.
Hamilton, out of contract at the end of this year is yet to sign an extension. However, that is expected to be a formality.
Russell, who will be staying at Williams next year, did his chances of driving for the main Mercedes team in the future no harm on Friday when he topped both practice sessions.
However, Wolff said Mercedes wouldn’t decide its 2022 line up based on just that.
“We know that we race next year with Lewis and Valtteri,” said the Austrian.
“Where we are in 2022 is all going to depend how our own season in 2021 is going to go and not by George’s performance on a oval in Bahrain and on a season final in Abu Dhabi.
“We have total trust in Valtteri and loyalty as we have always had, and that is our position.”
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Christian Radnedge)