George Russell making Mercedes boss Toto Wolffs Lewis Hamilton team-mate decision for him

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“It almost feels like a pole position, and the most pumped up I’ve been since I last won a race probably.” Those were the words of George Russell after he qualified ninth for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday. Something tells you Russell will soon get to know what it feels like to claim actual Formula One pole positions and race wins.

For the first time ever, ‘Mr Saturday’ made it through to Q3 as a Williams driver. Only in the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, which he borrowed for a weekend at the Sakhir GP last season, had he ever previously managed that feat.

Back then, Hamilton was stricken with Covid and Russell replaced him seamlessly. The seven-time world champion was impressed by Russell’s performance, which came despite his younger countryman wearing boots too small for him and being awkwardly crammed into a chassis suited for a significantly shorter man.

“I think George did an amazing job, I think everybody knows that,” Hamilton said of the Mercedes junior, who is now in the final of his three seasons on loan at Williams with his next move still uncertain.

Hamilton confirmed a new deal of his own with the Silver Arrows on Saturday, one which keeps him in F1 until the end of the 2023 season, when he will be 38 years old going on 39.

But the Mercedes seat alongside Hamilton for the next two seasons currently remains unfilled, and team principal Toto Wolff has confirmed multiple times it is between current driver Valtteri Bottas and Russell as to who else will race for the team in 2022.

The Austrian chief explained last week: “We always said we wanted to give it the next few races to gain more clarity, and also Valtteri’s racing in Austria in my opinion was really good and he needs to consolidate that.

“He’s a known factor, and in the same way we know the strengths and weaknesses of George. That decision is going to be made during the summer.

“First we’ll have discussions with George and Valtteri and then hopefully we are sorted before the end of the season. With Lewis we were clear [for] a while that we wanted to continue, so that was obvious for us.

“Now we can look at the second seat – it’s between those two. And as I said we value them both for their strengths and for what they can contribute to the team.”

In his qualifying performance in Spielberg, although he was overtaken by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in the race to finish 11th and miss out on his first Williams point, Russell reminded the seven-time Constructors’ Championship winners that he’s very much ready to replace Bottas.

In truth, Mercedes knew that already. The 23-year-old showed that in Bahrain last year and has continued to do so since then with his consistency at Williams and in particular his qualifying performances, where he continues to massively outperform Nicholas Latifi.

Bottas came second in Sunday’s second Austria race but he is already well out of the title picture. Exactly 90 points separate him and Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen. He is closer in the standings to AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who has nine points.

Bottas has been steady if unspectacular throughout his time with the team since 2017 and though he deserves more respect than he gets, the Finn ultimately has picked up just nine wins in four-and-a-third seasons. Over the same time-frame, Hamilton has amassed 45.

After Austria, Verstappen is on six victories from nine races this season alone, although Red Bull have a superior package to their title rivals Mercedes this time around.

With Sergio Perez giving Red Bull a dual threat alongside the Dutchman, Mercedes need a better wingman for Hamilton if the Milton Keynes outfit maintain their improved pace into 2022.

Wolff has hinted as much himself. “I think the sheer fact of having a competitor, a team and a driver that challenges him and challenges us is all the fun,” he said, suggesting he wants someone who will more regularly compete with Hamilton for seniority in the Mercedes garage.

Right now, Hamilton and Mercedes aren’t really a two-driver threat. There is a reason why Hamilton’s future has been secured so much earlier than Bottas’. The Scandinavian is under real pressure to prove he still deserves a top drive.

“From a fan perspective it would be interesting to have a change and to have someone new in that second car alongside Lewis,” the only man to deny Hamilton the driver’s title in F1’s turbo hybrid engine era, Nico Rosberg his former Mercedes team-mate, said.

“Someone who is really going to give Lewis a run for his money in the same team. A young guy who can replace Lewis as No 1 driver in the future at Mercedes.

“From that point of view, the fan’s perspective, we would be quite happy to see a change there and see something new.”

Nico’s not wrong and Bottas will no doubt know there is a growing desire throughout the sport for Russell to replace him. Wolff is certainly aware of the clamour.

So how can Bottas hold on to his seat? “Drive the car fast on a Saturday and Sunday. If he does that, he puts himself in a very good situation in terms of next year,” Wolff said in France. He did that in Austria, to be fair, and enjoyed one of his better weekends of the season so far (although the bar is not as high as it could be).

But Wolff added: “The main driver is consistent performance. Especially in this difficult year, we need two drivers that are racing right there.

“If one is having an off weekend or DNFs, you need the other one to bring it home. And that’s why it’s always important that both are just on the max of their ability.”

Simply put, Bottas needs to show more if he is to avoid being dropped. Russell is thriving for Williams, though he remains without a point, and he looks very much ready for a Mercedes race seat. The all-British pairing of him and Hamilton might be just what the Silver Arrows need next season.

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