SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM (REUTERS) – Mercedes have decided who will partner Lewis Hamilton next year, team boss Toto Wolff said on Saturday (Aug 28) after George Russell, widely tipped to land the drive, took a stunning second place for Williams in a wet qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old Briton, whose career has been backed by Formula One champions Mercedes, and incumbent Valtteri Bottas have been the two drivers in contention for the seat.
An announcement was expected in the build-up to the Belgian Grand Prix, the first race after Formula One’s summer holiday.
But Russell and Bottas, appearing together in Thursday’s press conference, said they had no news to share and were tight-lipped about whether a decision had been communicated to them.
“Yes,” was all Wolff – faced with a renewed barrage of questions after Russell’s heroic qualifying display – said, when asked if his team had made a decision.
Not giving away who had been picked, the Austrian said the decision had been complicated by the need to find a suitable alternative for the driver missing out.
“Both deserve to be looked after in the best possible way because both of them are part of the family and we hold them up high,” said the Austrian.
“So there are pros and cons like with any driver lineup and at the end there is no such thing as a perfect discussion.
“We just need to manage … the situation well with whoever driver is not going to be in a Mercedes next year and make sure that there is an exciting programme and on the other side manage the situation internally.”
Bottas joined Mercedes in 2017, replacing retiring champion Nico Rosberg. He has won nine races in that time but has generally failed to match seven-times champion Hamilton.
He was eighth in qualifying at Spa on Saturday but will start 13th after a five-place grid penalty.
Russell, meanwhile, in his third season at Williams has been impressive, especially in qualifying.
Saturday’s display in Belgium, where he edged out Hamilton by 0.013 seconds, was only the latest in a string of strong performances, including in Bahrain last December when he qualified second as stand-in for Hamilton and very nearly won.
“I think we know what we have with George,” said Wolff.
“He’s been outstanding in the junior categories, he’s been outstanding at Williams, he’s been outstanding when he’s been in Bahrain.
“The decision is also considering other factors. Let’s see.”