Sakhir GP 'affirmed' Mercedes belief in Russell but he still needs time

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George Russell still needs time before a full-time seat at Mercedes despite his strong performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix, team boss Toto Wolff claims.

The young Briton has made a strong impression during his first two seasons in Formula 1 at Williams, but his first real chance to show his potential came when he replaced Lewis Hamilton for last year's second race in Bahrain.

After narrowly missing out on pole to Valtteri Bottas, Russell assumed the lead into Turn 1 and controlled the race until a tyre mix-up and a puncture cruelly denied him a fairytale maiden win.

But while many saw that performance as proof the 22-year-old could step in at Mercedes, Wolff doesn't think Russell is quite ready yet. 

"Winning Formula 1 championships is about making the least amount of mistakes and that only comes with routine and experience," the Austrian said via

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"Mercedes expects this kind of sustainable performance level and that's why you need to give young drivers time.

"As exuberant as they may be perceived after the performance that we've seen [at the Sakhir GP] from George, at the same time, young drivers will be criticised, and criticised quickly, when they make mistakes in such a high-pressure environment like a top team.

"That's why making experiences like in Imola (when Russell crashed out behind the Safety Car) and learning from that is very important to form a driver that can perform at a sustainable high level."

That being said, the Mercedes boss also noted that the fact he turned to Russell to replace Hamilton at the Sakhir GP reiterated his confidence in him.

"We believed in George because there's not many drivers out there that have won junior championships as rookies, especially not in the very competitive GP3 and F2 championships," said Wolff.

"For us, [the Sakhir GP] was a possibility to confirm what we were thinking about George. It was unfortunate that this opportunity came with Lewis having been out.

"I would have wished it would have happened in a different way, but it gave us a set of data points to look at and in a way, it affirmed how we judged him.

"It was also an advantage for him and Williams. He was going to go back to his team with a lot of learning, with more understanding and this is why I think for him personally and for Williams, it was advantageous."

Of course, while another year at Williams still seems likely, it has been suggested Wolff's decision to promote Russell was strategic with Hamilton still yet to sign at Mercedes for 2021 and beyond.

But Toto denied the possibility of promoting Russell hung over talks with the seven-time world champion.

“We never played the George Russell card on him,” he told ORF.

“George did extremely well and will someday sit in a top car but in our long-term partnership with Hamilton, it’s not about making any threatening gestures.

“We knew we wanted to drive together and now we just have to negotiate the contract.”