Wolff on reluctance to promote Russell to Mercedes: 'Loyalty is very important to us'

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained why the team has again decided not to promote George Russell for 2021.

Last week, it emerged the Brackley-based team has reached an agreement in principle to retain Valtteri Bottas next season and this was confirmed when Williams announced Russell and Nicholas Latifi would be staying for another year.

It's a decision that is frustrating given the potential the Briton clearly has, and also leads to questions as to why Mercedes bothers with a junior program, particularly as other young talents like Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have come and gone without a chance in the Silver Arrow.

Yet, when asked about the continued reluctance to promote Russell, Wolff, who was Bottas' manager until 2017, offered this response.

“I think we said it in Austria, we are very happy with the line-up that we have," he told Crash.net. 

“Valtteri and Lewis perform well, they get on really well with each other, which is important for the dynamic within the team and the engineers really appreciate their feedback.

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“That’s one thing, but on the other side George had a three-year contract with Williams that runs one more year and Claire made very clear that she sees George as an important asset to the team, and from that side one must respect the contractual situation.

“George and us knew what we were getting ourselves into two years ago, Williams gave George the opportunity to come into Formula 1 and this is why the decision that Williams takes, we respect very much."

The excuse of Russell having a Williams contract is quite flimsy, however, given Mercedes yields a lot of political influence over the team.

Also, even Claire Williams herself has previously said she wouldn't stop George leaving if the call came.

So perhaps then it was what Toto said next that may hold a little more truth.

“On the other side, it doesn’t mean that if George would be free he would find a guaranteed slot at Mercedes. Valtteri and Lewis are our drivers today and loyalty is something that is very important to us," the Austrian added.

“We are always looking at the long-term picture, and George is someone who is very important for the long-term but not for 2021.”

Russell though is continuing to maintain trust in Mercedes and believes his time will come.

“Mercedes don’t have the junior programme for no reason,” he told Sky Sports earlier this year.

“Likewise Red Bull and Ferrari. The whole goal is to try and develop a driver and bring them through into the main team.

“Obviously it’s a lot about timing as well, there’s only two seats per team and at Mercedes, you’ve obviously got Lewis doing the business and he and Valtteri have been a great pairing for the last couple of years, winning the championship.

“So there must be part of them thinking why do we need to change.”

And after it was announced he would be staying at Williams next year, the 22-year-old told ESPN: “No, I’m not disappointed in Mercedes at all, there was nothing more they could do.

“Claire was very firm in her decision in that she wasn’t ready to let me go and as I have a contract with Williams I have to respect that decision.

“I’m here, I’ll be giving everything I’ve got for this year and into next year,” he added.

“Let’s see what the future holds after that.”

There is another factor that may well be involved that certainly won't be mentioned publicly by Mercedes.

Having seen what Max Verstappen did to Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull and Charles Leclerc to Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, you might think a certain Mr Hamilton might be a little wary of having his own young starlet come and claim his crown.