The Daily Mail report carries little weight in Formula 1, but it was enough to trigger a comment from Red Bull’s team principal
By Olivia Kairu
Speculation of a mid-season driver change at Mercedes is at full speed after a Daily Mail Monday report.
The British tabloid said Valterri Bottas could be axed by the Brackley-based team in detriment of George Russell, currently ‘on loan’ at Williams, before the end of the year.
The publication claimed to be have spoken anonymously with a Mercedes engineer, who allegedly voiced concerns about Bottas’ performances. “There is some unrest at the factory about Valtteri. He is not up to it, which was made clearer by the job we saw Russell do in Bahrain.”
Russell took over Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix after the seven-time world champion tested positive to COVID-19. The youngster went on to almost win the race in an incredible performance.
Bottas, on the other hand, has faced constant criticism in his five years as a Mercedes driver. In Imola, the second race of the 2021 season, the two drivers came together in a big accident.
Further reading: OPINION l Far from a ‘Last Dance’: Why this could be Bottas’ last year with Mercedes
Further reading: Not your average crash: why the accident between Russell and Bottas in Imola is more than what meets the eye
While the report carries little weight in Formula 1, it was enough to trigger a response from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, probably looking to stir more controversy and uneasiness into the Mercedes garage.
“I would be surprised if they did switch Valtteri and George mid-season,” Horner said to The Independent. “Valtteri has demonstrated he can drive the car very quickly. Circumstances are always going to happen so let’s see how things pan out, but Valtteri has done a great job for Mercedes over the last few years.”
Red Bull has been known themselves for swapping drivers mid-season with its B team AlphaTauri, previously known as Toro Rosso, if they were concerned about their second driver’s performances. In 2016, Max Verstappen switched seats with Daniil Kvyat. In 2019, Pierre Gasly had to make room for Alex Albon to step in.
Speaking before the Portuguese Grand Prix, therefore before the Daily Mail report came out, Mercedes Toto Wolff said he is still undecided about the 2022 driving duo. “I hope one day I wake up and it becomes clearer. I think we need to look into the season and how the next races unfold and then it’s a judgement call I believe. Not a very scientific response but I haven’t got any at the moment,” he said.
In theory, both Bottas and Russell could line up wearing Mercedes colours in 2022, but recent news shows it doesn’t seem like Hamilton is retiring at the end of the season. The 36-year-old has decided to volunteer for Pirelli’s 2022 tyres testing ahead of the Portugal Grand Prix, providing further evidence of his intentions to stay with Mercedes and renew his contract with the team.
“We are in a very good place, our relationship is growing stronger, like every year, and it’s about time to give it a little nudge and start to speak, and this is what we are going to do soon,” Wolff said about not the goal not to drag Hamilton’s contract extensions talks too long this time.
“I wouldn’t say we have gone back and forth but at least we have learned our lesson that we wouldn’t leave it until the Christmas holidays. That was definitely taking it too far.”
Sky Sports pundit and former Formula 1 driver Paul di Resta believes the current “team dynamic” at Mercedes works and should not be tampered with for the time being. “Yes, George is ambitious. Yes, he’s probably the future of Mercedes. But that’s where the decision becomes incredibly hard for Toto (Wolff),” he said.
I’m sure Lewis doesn’t want the foundations of that team to change because it’s won world championships, it’s won constructors championships, for a very good reason. And when you see the performance of Mr. Hamilton on a day like today, if you’ve got anything that’s going to doubt that, do you take that away?”