ZANDVOORT, Netherlands (AP)George Russell knows if he will race for Mercedes alongside seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton next year, it’s just he can’t say it.
The Williams driver paused for several seconds on Thursday when pressed about his seat for 2022.
”Yes, I know where I’ll be driving next year. I’m not going to sit here and lie,” Russell said. ”The truth is, there’s nothing to announce. But I’m aware of the situation of where I’ll be racing next year, and I was informed prior to Spa (the Belgian GP last weekend).”
Russell, who came up through the Mercedes system, is increasingly being touted as a possible replacement for Valtteri Bottas, whose contract has not yet been renewed for 2022.
Russell would relish the chance to partner Hamilton in a team.
”I have a huge amount of respect for Lewis and everything he has achieved. He doesn’t rely on his immense natural talent, he tries to go above and beyond,” Russell said. ”Lewis is the greatest of all time and it would be a huge opportunity to go alongside him and learn.”
After producing a stunning lap to take second place in qualifying in Belgium last Saturday, Russell went on to clinch the second podium of his career.
The 23-year-old British driver has been part of the Mercedes young driver program since 2017 and is highly rated within the team.
He impressed when he replaced Hamilton for one race last season after the F1 champion contracted the coronavirus. Russell finished second at the Sakhir GP and even came close to victory.
Hamilton has previously avoided commenting too much on Russell but was lavish in his praise this time, and dropped a hint about 2022.
”I think George is an incredibly talented driver. His qualifying lap (in Belgium) was amazing,” Hamilton said. ”He’s humble and I think he’s got a great approach. He’s already shown incredible driving so far and I’m sure he’s going to continue to grow, so where better to do it in a great team like this?”
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who is the same age as Russell and raced against him in previous categories, also rates him highly.
”He jumped into the car in Bahrain, and basically he was already from lap one making it very difficult for Valtteri,” Verstappen said. ”So, you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car, and the more you get accustomed within the team, naturally you’re going to be faster.”
Bottas would not say if he will still be at Mercedes but was looking ahead to a multi-year deal, something he’s never had at Mercedes. Bottas has been given one-year contracts after replacing 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg in 2017.
”Yes, a multi-year contract would be nice. That’s something I’ve never had before in Formula 1. That could definitely give you a good, full commitment to the team not just (for) that year,” he said. ”It needs to be exciting. It needs to be fun, in an atmosphere that I really enjoy.”
Alfa Romeo has a seat free, following 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen’s decision to retire at the end of this season.
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