Keeping George Russell at Williams for another season “no longer makes sense”, according to Red Bull’s Helmut Marko, who was asked to comment on the dilemma facing Mercedes for the 2022 Formula 1 season.
Mercedes junior Russell is keen to replace Valtteri Bottas next year and rumours of contract negotiations have been circulating, with claims Bottas has already been told his services will no longer be required next year.
However nothing official has come out from the Mercedes camp, other than comments from the Finn confirming he would soon be seeking to negotiate an extension to his current contract for 2022, rather than leaving such talks to the off-season.
Marko, who is well versed in driver contracts having seen several come and go during his time with Red Bull, was asked by F1-Insider to comment on the rumours that Bottas and Russell have both been informed of the decision by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
“It would be the logical step,” he said of Russell taking Bottas’ seat. “You can’t hold it off any longer. Otherwise the funding no longer makes sense. Even if Hamilton won’t be happy,” he said, referring to further rumours that Hamilton wants Mercedes to retain Bottas because he’s poses very little threat.
On what the future holds for the 31-year-old, Marko believes a return to Williams as part of a driver swap deal is “the only option”.
“Bottas doesn’t have to call us,” joked Marko. “There is no space. Actually, I can only imagine a swap with Russell. I think Williams will be the only option for him.”
Russell proved he is totally capable of filling Bottas’ seat after his performance in Sakhir last year, when he qualified second in the Mercedes after standing in for Hamilton, who tested positive for Covid-19. Russell would go on to lead the race, twice overtaking Bottas, only to have his hard work fall apart thanks to a pit error and puncture.
Mercedes was keen to stress that Russell would stay at Williams for 2021, where he was to enter the last of a three-year deal, with Bottas having been signed up already last August.
Perhaps that was a wise decision given Bottas is usually a safe pair of hands and has helped to guarantee the title for Mercedes since joining in 2017. But his confidence seems to have taken a knock this year and his performances have been somewhat disappointing. He sits sixth in the standings after six races, behind Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.
There has been misfortune. He and Russell collided in Imola, but Bottas should never have been battling a Williams. In Monaco he looked set for second, but for a pesky wheel nut. That would have seen him move ahead of Leclerc and Norris in the standings, but he would still be behind the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
Perhaps he is no longer a safe pair of hands, when Mercedes finds itself locked in its closest battle for some time when every single point matters.
And that is perhaps why Mercedes, despite the major 2022 rules overhaul, feel it’s the right time to finally promote their young superstar-to-be. It is of course the Constructors’ Championship that pays the bills, not the Drivers’. So whilst two strong drivers might take points off one another, as long as they maximise the points for the team, that’s all that counts.