Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says George Russell will be “very important” for the team’s long-term plans but respects Williams’ stance on the situation for 2021.

Despite Russell being linked with a possible graduation to Mercedes for 2021,  Williams announced ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that it would continuing with an unchanged driver line-up for next season.

Russell signed a three-year deal running until the end of next season when he originally signed for Williams in 2019, and deputy team principal Claire Williams was reluctant to release the Briton from his contract early following his impressive start to the new campaign.

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Mercedes is close to tying up an extension with Valtteri Bottas for 2021, while six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton is also expected to remain at the German manufacturer after an agreement is struck on what could end up being his final F1 contract.

When asked by whether Russell was ever in genuine contention for a Mercedes drive next year, Wolff replied: “I think we said it in Austria, we are very happy with the line-up that we have.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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 told in an exclusive interview prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix that he would have been “absolutely ready” to become teammates with Hamilton for 2021 had the call come from Mercedes.

The 22-year-old has been a star of the first three rounds of the season with some brilliant qualifying displays amid a much-improved showing from the Williams team, which is recovering from its worst-ever F1 season in 2019.

Speaking about Williams’ early season form, Wolff added: “I’m very pleased for the team, because Williams has always been close to my heart.

"They made the jump from cruising at the back of the grid last year to actually into the midfield.

“They’re competing, they’re racing other cars, and it seems like the car is a great qualifying car. It has made a big step in qualifying, and they will eventually consolidate that position.

“For Nicholas and George, it’s good that they’re in the pack, that they’re fighting. Therefore the learning curve is going to continue, and that is important for both of us going forward.”