Toto Wolff has already denied that George Russell’s performance in Sakhir is a “shoot-out” for Valtteri Bottas’ seat, but also says it will “have no impact” on contract talks with Lewis Hamilton.
Russell will race for Mercedes at the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend, who is being called up to replace Hamilton after the reigning world champion tested positive on Covid-19.
Hamilton’s positive test opened the door for Mercedes to take a closer look at their junior driver Russell, who has knocked at the back of the grid with Williams and has yet to score a single championship point.
The 22-year-old showed what he can do if he gets a better car on Friday, topping the timesheets in both workouts on Friday.
Russell’s cameo comes at an interesting time as Mercedes has yet to tie Hamilton to a new contract and talks are not expected to begin until after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Wolff has denied that a strong show from Russell could see Mercedes play hard with the seven-time world champion.
“We talked about George in the car,” he told 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 used as some sort of bargaining power, neither by him nor by us – it could go either way.
“I have a lot of respect for who he is, how he drives, his records and whatever happens this week or the next doesn’t affect our conversations.”
He added: “This weekend and maybe next weekend that will give us more information about our overall understanding of George’s performance, but we know we will be racing with Lewis and Valtteri next year and where we are in 2022 all depends on how our own performance is. season will end in 2022, and not because of George’s performance on an oval in Bahrain and at a season finale in Abu Dhabi. “
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As for his contract talks with Hamilton, Wolff says those are on hold while the 35-year-old is inside himself.
He said, “Well, the timeline is being pushed back until it recovers. We know we have to get it done, we’re fairly aware of it, both of us, but the priority now is for him to get back on his feet and be negative again.
“And then we will meet, or Zoom, to put pen to paper.”
Wolff has previously denied that Russell’s run could be a ‘showdown’ between the Brit and Bottas for a Mercedes seat.
“No, not at all,” said Wolff. “I’ve heard this rumor and of course you can’t call it a shoot-out when it comes to one or two races. That will not provide you with meaningful data at all.
“If George gets it right, it’s an indication that he will one day be in a good car and hopefully race for victories and world championships – but that’s a long way off. He knows that.
“He just has to do a good job, not make mistakes and keep doing what he has done.
“There is no firefight. We have complete faith in Valtteri and loyalty as we have always had – and that is our position. “
When asked how he would deal with Bottas if the Finn is beaten by Russell this weekend, Wolff insisted that he shouldn’t have to spend time calming down his driver.
“Valtteri has never been one to be reassured,” he said. “He knows where he stands, he knows his position in the team, how we support each other and we have to remain realistic.
“George is a highly regarded young driver, one of the highest rated drivers, so he is expected to be fast. He knows the team and this is a fifty second track where you have to be in the right place at the right time with the right engine modes.
“In that respect it will be just fine. We all expected George to be there, and we’ll see how the weekend ends. “
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