George Russell joined Williams Racing in 2019 with a three-year contract, where he consistently found himself as a backmarker. But exceptional qualifying performances earned him the nickname ‘Mr Saturday’ and a spot in the pool of future champions amongst names like Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
His Sakhir drive, coupled by Hamilton’s lack of contract at the time, sparked rumours that he might leave Williams a year early, but they were quickly quashed by Russell, citing, “ultimately I have a contract and I’m a Williams driver for 2021.” After that runs out at the end of this season, however, his Mercedes management means that he could be guaranteed a seat as soon as a position opens up.
That need for a vacant seat could very well come at the expense of Bottas. There has been growing criticism of the Finn’s results, especially next to the record-breaking Hamilton. In the 2020 season, Bottas placed 2nd in the drivers’ championship, just 9 points ahead of Red Bull’s Verstappen despite being in the superior car. And if Verstappen hadn’t retired 4 times to Bottas’ 1, it doesn’t seem farfetched to think that he could have easily surpassed Bottas.
Bottas will be in his 5th year with Mercedes during the 2021 season, and some consider it high time that he gave his seat to an upcoming driver.
But team principal Toto Wolff has maintained that “we’re seeing the strongest Valtteri we’ve ever seen this year… I’m confident that we have the strongest pairing in F1 today.”
On that note, driver pairings are absolutely essential in F1. Fans will remember Hamilton and Nico Rosberg during 2013-2016, where the two went from karting friends to bitter rivals under the pressures of F1. Could Russell, emerging as a young and formidable threat, peacefully partner the dominant Hamilton?
Many think that Hamilton will retire after taking a potential 8th championship in the 2021 season, which would allow both Bottas and Russell to drive for Mercedes and keep the team's current first and second driver arrangement. Ultimately, the German team are unlikely to let their best driver in history go, so the fate of Bottas’ and Russell’s 2022 drives will lie in Hamilton’s choice to stay in F1.