Mercedes chief Toto Wolff could defy Lewis Hamilton as Max Verstappen turns screw

F1: Verstappen and Hamilton verbally spar

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff could ignore his star driver Lewis Hamilton when it comes to selecting a team-mate for the English driver next season. Hamilton’s current partner Valtteri Bottas recently revealed that the seven-time world champion had expressed to him his desire for the Finn to remain at Mercedes.

Bottas told Finnish MTV Sport that he and Hamilton had a frank conversation about their desire to remain together for next season. He said: “Yes, Lewis has told me quite directly that he would like me to be his teammate.

“Together we can do very well. The fact is, drivers can’t make a terrible impact on it.

“Yes, there’s a bigger machine behind it that ultimately makes those decisions.”

The most important cog in that “bigger machine” is Wolff, who along with the Daimler board will have the final say when it comes to the 2022 selection.

George Russell has been frequently mentioned in conversations about that seat, having driven for Mercedes as a junior and with his three-year contract at Williams set to expire this season.

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It could be wise for Wolff not to take heed of the requests of Hamilton and move in a more youthful direction with his team, especially given the undeniable talent of Max Verstappen and Red Bull causing Mercedes to look over their shoulder for the first time in years.

At 23 years old, Russell is eight years younger than Bottas, who has raced for the Brackley-based team since 2017.

Bottas’ performances this season have been underwhelming given the impressive speed of the Mercedes car, and he has been forced to retire from events three times already in 2021.

The most recent of those came at the final race before the summer break in Hungary, where Bottas made a braking error on the very first corner of the Grand Prix which caused a mass pile-up and considerable anger from other teams

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On a starkly different note, Russell’s finest performance for Williams this season came at the Hungaroring where he finished in the points for the first time this season.

If Mercedes’ ultimate goal is to establish an even greater grip on the Constructors’ Championship over the next few years, Wolff could opt to forego the preference of his premier driver in order to serve the best interests of the team.

In the long-term, Wolff and the rest of the Mercedes top brass may see Russell as the heir to Hamilton’s crown.

With the uncertainty around how long Hamilton, now 36, will continue to compete in F1, Wolff may feel that pulling the trigger and obtaining Russell for the team now is the smartest option.

Such a move would allow Russell to learn from arguably the greatest driver of all time during his formative years before potentially inheriting Hamilton’s role as the foremost racer of his generation.

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F1 returns on Friday for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. Wolff and Mercedes are set to announce their decision either directly before the weekend or in the days following the event.

Hamilton currently leads Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship standings by eight points.

Neither Mercedes or Red Bull are expected to have made any significant changes to their cars, with both teams focusing their efforts on producing a competitive vehicle for the 2022 season.

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