Saturday, February 27, 2021

Wolff: Bottas won’t lose 2021 Mercedes F1 seat to Russell

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Russell’s superb performance in last weekend’s Sakhir GP led to suggestions that Mercedes might try to engineer a swap that would see Bottas return to Williams next year and the British driver make a permanent step up.

However, Wolff stressed that he remains loyal to Bottas, and made it clear that Russell’s time will come.

“He’s going to be in our car,” said Wolff. “I’m hereby confirming it. We have a contract with Valtteri. 

“He’s going to race next year. You need to kick me quite hard in a sensitive zone for me to ever lose my loyalty. And I am loyal to my two race drivers.

“In the same way, I’m loyal to our junior drivers. George did a phenomenal job last weekend. He deserves to be in a great car one day. He has a contract with Williams for another year.

“They have been very flexible and accommodating in having George, giving George to Mercedes this other weekend, and everything is going to go its way. But calmly, and in a structured way.”

Wolff admitted that Bottas had been put in a difficult position over the Sakhir weekend, with Russell “having nothing to lose” and making such a huge impact on his one-off appearance.

“I can relate to Valtteri’s situation,” said Wolff. “Because you’re having this tremendously fast teammate who has won seven world championships, and Valtteri has shown really great performances.

“He won the first race in Austria, and he’s been on pole several times, and he should have won more races if it wasn’t for red flags or punctures.

“And then losing it again when bad luck was really part of your campaign feels miserable, and in that respect, I think that a driver can sometimes then slip into a bubble where you feel that things are going against you.

“Last weekend was all around George. George had nothing to lose, and Valtteri had nothing to gain.

“In that respect, we had a good talk, an intelligent talk between us. It wasn’t like a eureka moment that suddenly I’ve been talking to him, I can just relate to his situation, and we’ve decided that we want to talk to each other more.”

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Their renewed rapport was reflected in qualifying when Wolff took the unusual step of talking directly to Bottas on the radio, saying “All you have, Valtteri.”

“Every driver is different,” said Wolff. “And we have strict intercom protocols that we follow. And I remember when I was a racing driver, I was annoyed by the guys that leaned over into the cockpit and shook my hand before I got going.

“And, in that respect, I will always and the team will always adjust to the drivers modus operandi. And that’s why I’ve never been on the radio unless we have a critical situation in the race.

“But when I discussed with Valtteri about how we could improve our communication, he said that he felt like a more open discussion or more open communication, even while it’s being in the car is something that he would like to entertain.

“And I said to him, ‘Are you sure because I don’t want to interfere into you driving the car?’ He said, ‘No, no, I’m actually up for it.’ And I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

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