At this point I’m convinced Mercedes is going to sign George Russell for 2022. Why else would team boss Toto Wolff make comments like those he made entering last weekend about the “responsibility” he feels he owes Valtteri Bottas to help the Finn’s Formula 1 career continue, even if the Silver Arrows team lets him go?
This is what Wolff said to the media, courtesy of Racer:
“If we were to come to the situation that we wanted to give somebody else a go, then it’s not only my relationship with him but also the responsibility that he has a great future,” Wolff said. “Because he deserves that. He has been the teammate of the best Formula 1 driver of all time, and that is not always (a) very easy (way) to shine, but he’s fantastic.”
This quote is several days old by this point. Although I didn’t think much of it when I first read it, I’ve since had time to reflect. The more I think about it, the more it confuses me.
First off, if Toto Wolff wants to do his boy Valtteri a solid and set up a soft landing for him at Alfa Romeo or Williams, he’s totally free to do that. If Wolff believes he owes the guy some kind of favor for protecting Lewis Hamilton’s leads over so many years so Merc’s No. 1 driver could win half of his championships, I get it. Toto Wolff is very influential and has a lot of money. Fair play if he wants to use it to look after his people.
What strikes me as odd, though, is the “responsibility” Wolff says he has to do everything in his power to ensure Bottas “has a great future.” This is not the way racing has ever really worked. The driver is currently in his fifth year with Mercedes, and he’s had the same opportunities to succeed as his teammate. At this stage, if Wolff decides it’s time for Mercedes to move on, he can do so knowing Bottas enjoyed five years at the greatest F1 team of the modern era, finishing second on the drivers’ table twice. Bottas might not have nabbed the championship he wanted, but he still had a pretty good run by anyone else’s measure. Sometimes, that’s how it goes. In fact, most of the time that’s how it goes!
What’s more, it’s not as if Bottas is guaranteed or even likely to find a level of success anywhere near what he achieved at Mercedes at Alfa or Williams. I know this is obvious, but I don’t think Bottas’ vision of his “greatest future” is scrambling around in the back third of the grid, sporadically cracking into the points-paying positions. Such is life for number two drivers at number one teams. (Barrichello getting a shot at things with Brawn after supporting Schumacher at Ferrari for what felt like an eternity is the exception, I guess, and a real fluke. If Alfa, say, suddenly makes a run at the championship, Bottas is a genius.)
There’s a very finite number of seats in Formula 1, and Bottas has occupied one of them since 2013. That’s a long time in this sport. I realize what’s best for F1 isn’t necessary what’s best for the backmarker teams, but you’d hope to see one of those spots go to a promising young driver who needs space and time to hone their craft before taking that next, big step. It should go to a Callum Ilott or a Guanyu Zhou, rather than a known quantity who had his chance. Nobody gets to do this forever.