Webber: Wolff's Russell gamble worked 'in his favour' ahead of Hamilton talks

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Toto Wolff's promotion of George Russell at the Sakhir Grand Prix worked "in his favour" as he negotiates Lewis Hamilton's new Mercedes contract, Mark Webber claims.

Entering 2021, the seven-time world champion is currently without a seat after his previous deal expired at the end of last year, with Wolff previously indicating it could be as late as pre-season testing next month until Hamilton does sign on the dotted line.

With another dominant season seemingly giving the Briton all the cards in talks, however, Webber believes the Austrian capitalised on the unexpected chance to put Russell in the Mercedes in Bahrain after Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19.

“The timing for Lewis was just horrible,” the Australian told the ‘At The Controls’ podcast.

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“We all thought during the season ‘imagine if Lewis or someone in the Championship battle got Covid and missed a few races’.

“I think I drove 1,000 days in a Formula 1 car with testing, practice, Grand Prix weekends over 12 or 13 years, and I think I had three days off.

“That’s because I don’t want anyone near my car. You try to look after your own share price, you don’t want people to have exposure to your material, your people.

“It’s such a cut-throat industry, even someone like Lewis that [missing the Sakhir GP] was all downside for him."

Indeed, although Russell would narrowly miss out on pole to Valtteri Bottas in qualifying, he would put on what many would consider a Hamilton-style performance in the race, taking the lead into Turn 1 and controlling the pace until a tyre mix-up and then a puncture cruelly denied him victory.

“George drove well. It was the easiest track in the world – it wasn’t exactly Suzuka – but he still drove brilliantly in a compromised ergonomic environment in the car," Webber added.

“Toto certainly likes the tightrope in terms of playing the game with lots of different things in the pit lane, and that was another one where it looks like it’s come out in his favour.”

Just to prove Webber's point, a report in Italian media on Sunday claims Hamilton rejected a $40m-per-year deal plus $4m for winning the title offer by Daimler, who are threatening to turn to Russell if no deal is done.

InsideRacing understands this isn't the case but it does indicate Lewis will have to give up some ground if he wants the new deal that he's still expected to get.