Mercedes: Sakhir not a shootout between Russell, Bottas for 2022

Russell will make his Mercedes debut this weekend after being drafted in from Williams to replace Lewis Hamilton following his positive test for COVID-19.

Russell has been part of Mercedes’ junior programme since the end of 2016, and has been widely tipped throughout his impressive F1 career to date to go on to race for the works team in the future.

The 22-year-old’s contract with Williams expires at the end of 2021, making it feasible he could move up to Mercedes for the 2022 season to partner Hamilton.

It has led to suggestions that this weekend’s race in Bahrain is an opportunity for Mercedes to compare Bottas and Russell in identical equipment, acting as a face-off for a future seat.

But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff denied this was the case, saying one or two races – if Hamilton is unable to return in Abu Dhabi – would not be a meaningful comparison.

“No, not at all. I’ve heard this rumour, and obviously you can’t call it a shootout when it’s about one or two races,,” Wolff said.

“That doesn’t give you any meaningful data whatsoever. If George does well, it’s an indication that one day he is going to be in a good car, and hopefully race for victories and world championships.

“But that is far away. He knows that, he just needs to deliver a solid job, not make any mistakes and continue what he’s done.

“There is no shootout. We have total trust in Valtteri, and loyalty as we always have. That is our position.”

Russell kicked off the Sakhir race weekend in style by topping both FP1 and FP2 on Friday, but downplayed his headline times as being “deceiving”.

Bottas finished three-tenths of a second off Russell in FP1 due to floor damage, and then had his fastest time deleted in second practice, leaving him 11th overall.

Asked how Mercedes would reassure Bottas if he was beaten by Russell this weekend, Wolff expressed his confidence in the Finn’s mentality.

“Valtteri has never been anybody that needs reassuring,” Wolff said.

“He knows where he stands, he knows his position in the team, how we are supportive of each other.

“We have to remain realistic. George is a highly rated young driver, one of the most highly rated, so it’s expected of him to be fast. He knows the team, and this is a 50-second circuit, where you need to be in the right place at the right time with the right engine modes.

“In that respect, this is just going to be alright. We all expected George to be right there, and we’ll see how the weekend ends.”

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Wolff did acknowledge that the data gained from Russell running in the Mercedes car would help build a better picture of his overall ability and performance.

“It’s another set of data points this weekend, and maybe next weekend, that will be kind of giving us more information in our overall understanding of George’s performances,” Wolff said.

“We know that we race next year with Lewis and Valtteri.

“Where we are in 2022 is all going to depend on how our own season in ’22 is going to go, and not by George’s performance on an oval in Bahrain and on a season finale in Abu Dhabi.”

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