F1’s most coveted seat is currently free in 2022 with Valtteri Bottas keen on remaining with Mercedes, whilst George Russell looks to make the step up.
With Lewis Hamilton committing to the team until the end of 2023, just one seat remains with the reigning champions.
But the main question is, has Bottas done enough to earn another contract with the German manufacturer?
Last Lap will take a look at both sides of the argument, looking at why the Finnish driver deserves to stay with the team, but also why it could be the right time to promote young-star Russell.
Stick with Bottas
There’s no doubt that since the 31-year-old arrived at Mercedes in 2017, he has done exactly as required.
In the past two seasons, he has finished second in the drivers’ standings with only his teammate Hamilton ahead, giving Mercedes a perfect line-up to dominate the World Championship.
Since joining the Brackley-based team, Bottas has taken nine wins, 17 poles and a total of 52 podiums. Not a bad record on the whole, especially with teammate Hamilton currently at the peak of his racing career.
Toto Wolff once described Bottas as a “sensational wingman” for Hamilton after the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix; obviously not what the Finn wanted to hear, but it’s exactly what Mercedes needed him to be when bringing him into the team after Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement at the end of 2016.
Ask any F1 fan who watched the days of the Hamilton/Rosberg partnership, and they’ll tell you just how quickly what used to be a strong friendship turned into toxic rivalry.
By Rosberg’s title-winning year in 2016, the two were barely on speaking terms. Throw into the mix about the Spanish GP and Austrian GP collisions, any kind of team spirit eroded away between the two.
Mercedes needed to fix that and by bringing in Bottas, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Perhaps this year there seems to be some sort of underlying tension within the team, but what do you expect when they face their toughest championship fight since the turbo-hybrid era began?
Choosing to drop the Finnish driver and bringing in Russell to the outfit could well disrupt what has made Mercedes tick so well in recent years. With Hamilton hungry to add an eighth championship to his cabinet, signing a young talent like Russell who is keen to show off his skills might ignite another rivalry in the team that they will be so careful to avoid.
We know that Russell can win in the Mercedes, had it not been for misfortune in his Sakhir GP appearance with the team he would have dominated to take victory, so are Mercedes ready to have a line-up with two drivers that can fight for the championship? Only they will have the answer to that.
Bottas has done a good job with the German manufacturer in his five years with the team and luck has not been on his side in 2021, so that could be the reasoning Mercedes will use if they decide to stick with the Finn.
Twist with Russell
After a five-year stint with the same line-up, is it time for Mercedes to make a change and go for youth rather than a consistent pairing?
In my opinion, yes it is. Russell is ready to make that jump up into the works Mercedes and his performances prove exactly that. Throughout the season so far, the Briton has drove the wheels off of his Williams, and has been desperately close to his first points with the team on a number of occasions.
If not now, then when will Toto Wolff’s team make the call to promote Russell and give him a car capable of winning races and championships. You’ve also got to take into consideration how long will it be until the 23-year-old begins to get frustrated at the lack of opportunities he has been getting to move up in F1?
He will look at the likes of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, who were quickly promoted to Red Bull and Ferrari in just their second terms in Formula One, and seeing both drivers already race winners (and in Verstappen’s case a championship contender) will definitely hurt the British driver.
There’s not much else to say currently on Russell’s position as a potential Mercedes driver. He has put in the performances with Williams and it will now just be a case of waiting for the phone-call for the King’s Lynn-born driver, or waiting to see if he will have to wait another year to get his much anticipated promotion.
Who do you think will be in the second Mercedes seat in 2022? Make sure to let us know!