Hamilton & Bottas have first priority on 2022 Mercedes seat, but all change isn't ruled out

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Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will get first priority on remaining at Mercedes beyond 2021, Toto Wolff has confirmed.

On Monday, it was confirmed Hamilton had signed a one-year deal with the Brackley-based squad, extending his partnership with Bottas into a fifth season.

And though there is a number of drivers who could be potential options for 2022, Wolff, who has praised the stability of Mercedes' current line-up, is keeping all options on the table.

“Valtteri and Lewis have our 100 per cent commitment for 2021. We will support them with everything we have and we will then look beyond this year and say ‘What is the line-up that we imagine in 2022 and onwards?’," he told reporters this week.

“Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values of loyalty and integrity.

"But on the other side, the young drivers are the future and therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond.”

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Indeed, the first name on the list of potential alternatives is George Russell, who of course was very impressive when he stood in for Lewis Hamilton at last year's Sakhir Grand Prix.

Another driver being mentioned, however, is Max Verstappen.

“Hamilton’s short-term deal has to be worrying news for Red Bull, especially if there is a break clause in Verstappen’s contract (which runs to the end of ’23) relating to whether the team has a manufacturer engine partner (which it won’t have after the end of this year),” Mark Hughes wrote for The Race.

“There has been a friendly relationship between Mercedes and Verstappen stretching back to even before he made his F1 debut. Toto Wolff has maintained a good dialogue with the Verstappen's ever since, sometimes to the irritation of Red Bull’s Christian Horner.

“The prospect of Hamilton retiring from driving duties at the end of this year, having achieved a record-breaking eighth title, is not so difficult to envision.

“If that comes to pass, Verstappen would be the most obvious replacement. If Mercedes then maintains its superiority into the new aero regulations then F1 might simply replace the Hamilton era with a Verstappen era.”

Ver Russ SakhGP

However, Hughes also doesn't rule out Mercedes going all-new by pairing the Dutchman with Russell.

“After his sensational stand-in performance at Sakhir, which just rubber-stamped the regard in which Mercedes holds him, it would seem obvious that Russell will be promoted in ’22,” Hughes added.

“So an all-new Verstappen-Russell line-up at Mercedes from ’22? It’s more than feasible. In which case, could Russell prevent the new era being a Verstappen one and make it instead Verstappen-Russell?

“He’s met every challenge thrown at him so far. Who’s to say he wouldn’t be up to that one? The dynamic quality such an exciting idea lends to F1’s prospects just underlines how predictable it has become in the Hamilton era.

“Or… in the unlikely event Verstappen’s contract doesn’t have that manufacturer engine break clause and he genuinely is committed to Red Bull until the end of ’23, then the whole world conceivably opens up for Russell.”

Certainly an interesting year ahead...