Mercedes junior driver George Russell is widely tipped to be promoted to the team next year, whether that’ll be in place of Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas. The seven-time World Champion and the Finn are both out of contract at the end of 2021 as a potential transition period could occur at the team.
After replacing Hamilton, who had a positive test for COVID-19, the young Brit starred for Mercedes on his debut for the team at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year and looked set for victory on two occasions, but was robbed by a nightmare in the pits and then a slow puncture later in the Grand Prix.
However, Russell says he’s not been promised a seat by Mercedes Toto Wolff at the moment, as he prepares for his third season with Williams.
“[Mercedes] have told me that I am a part of their future, whenever that may be, again, is when they believe the time is right,” said Russell to the media today following Williams’ launch.
“I obviously had a taste of life at the front of the grid last year but I’m just focused on the here and now, focusing on Bahrain.
“If I perform on track and I deliver, continue on the same path and progress that I’ve been on so far I guess in the future the opportunity will come, but I’m not even thinking about it. And no promises have been made [by Mercedes], at all.”
Russell, however, can see a bright future at Williams and believes he could have an interesting choice to make further down the line.
“First and foremost I am a Williams driver this year,” he said.
“If that were not going to happen that most of you guys are speculating… it’s an interesting position for me but as it currently stands with the whole investment from Dorilton, the changes I’ve already seen taking place at Williams.
“Williams have finished last in the Constructors’ [Championship] for the past three seasons, I don’t think that will be the case in 2022. I see a very bright future here.
“There’s a massive opportunity for every team in F1 for 2022 and as the guys have said with the investment we’ve got, with the guys who are already here, with the likes of Jost [Capito] and the guys that are coming in, the relationship that has been built with Mercedes. It’s looking very exciting for the team.
“I guess I’ve got a very interesting decision on my hands towards the middle of this year but I am not even thinking about that now, we’re still over a year away yet.”
Pushed by Sky Sports if he would like Lewis Hamilton as his teammate should he head to Mercedes, the 23-year-old gave an emphatic answer; Russell added two other drivers who he believes are on the same level as his fellow Brit.
''Yeah, I mean every driver wants to put himself against the best. Obviously I believe in myself and Lewis is the benchmark at the moment, but equally you’ve got a lot of fantastic drivers out there who might not have the same CV as Lewis.
''Max, Charles, Lewis... they’re all on the same level and putting yourself against one of those three would be great for any driver.’’
As for the here and now, the former Formula 2 Champion is hopeful that the FW43B can allow the team to take a step forward, just as Alfa Romeo and Haas are expected to with a better engine from Ferrari.
''I think we’re very hopeful we can continue to go forward,’’ Russell told Sky Sports F1.
''The car is definitely a step in the right direction. Whether it’s enough... who knows. It all depends on our competitors really.
''I think the team have done a great job, but until we drive that Saturday evening in Bahrain for qualifying, I don’t think anybody’s going to know.
''Obviously the Ferrari engine was very off the pace last year and I think they’ll be making a good step forward, so we need to make double that step just to stay on the same page as them, but I think like I said the guys have done a good job; it’s now down to see how our competitors get on.
''It’s the same every pre-season but I think we will still make a small step forward in the right direction.’’