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Toto Wolff appears to have confirmed that Mercedes have made their decision as to who will partner Lewis Hamilton from the 2022 season onwards. Valtteri Bottas and George Russell are vying for the sole seat alongside seven-time world champion Hamilton and the latter produced a superb performance in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.
Russell was narrowly denied a shock pole position at Spa by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a sublime display saw him put his Williams ahead of Hamilton who starts in third.
The 23-year-old provided a reminder of what he could do in a championship-contending car as he sealed his team’s first front-row start since Monza in 2017.
It comes despite the fact Williams are eighth in the 10-team Constructors’ Championship while Russell only scored his first ever points for the team in Hungary last time out.
The Mercedes junior driver is widely seen as a title winner in the future and has publicly made clear he feels ready to be promoted to the Silver Arrows.
Asked if his qualifying performance made it a more difficult decision for Mercedes, Wolff suggested that the Brackley-based outfit have reached a conclusion.
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At the same time Bottas has come under question and in Belgium found himself finishing in eighth, though he will drop a further five places for Sunday’s race due to a penalty.
The Finn was a second slower than Russell, whom he awkwardly shared a pre-Grand Prix press conference with on Thursday.
Wolff has said that himself and seven-time world champion Hamilton “have the same opinion” on who should be picked between Russell and Bottas.
And the Austrian, speaking to Sky Sports F1 after Russell put his car in an unexpected P2, said: “Very good lap. Very impressive.
“You need to put in such a lap and keep it on the track. He was a sniff away from pole position. So yeah, congratulations.”
He said: “I think by now we know where we stand. We know what we have, what he [Russell] can do. Today was just another confirmation that he can drive.”
Quizzed on when Mercedes will make their decision official, Wolff said only: “Soon. Soon.”
Hamilton was among those to congratulate Russell after his lap and said: “Well done to Max, he did a great job right at the end.
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“My first lap was really good but the second I struggled a little bit. Also a great job by George, that’s fantastic.”
While Russell himself told Sky Sports: “An amazing feeling. We definitely did not expect to be starting on the front row. We did everything right at the right moment.
“Often in these positions, that’s what it’s all about. So happy for the whole team, we obviously had a fantastic result in Hungary and it feels like our hard work is starting to pay off and people are starting to recognise it.
“I had a really good feeling from lap one even in FP3. Here in the wet, when it mattered, we really put everything together. It was an exceptional ending.
“This is what F1 is all about, that sort of feeling. I missed that. I want to be fighting for pole positions every single week.
“It was so tricky out there. Because we’re not in Q3 every time I was in a bit of luxury that I could put everything on the line and really go for it.
“But qualifying is over, and the race is tomorrow. We have to make sure we have a good one.
“I think so [we want the rain again]. If the conditions are like this, overtaking and racing will be really difficult and really tricky.
“All of us hope for something consistent, whether it’s wet or whether it’s dry. But I’m pretty confident we won’t have that tomorrow.
“It’ll be a tricky race for the guys on the pitwall. We’ve got to make sure we’re there at the end. You’ve got to be in it to win it.”
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