Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insists that George Russell and Valtteri Bottas are not in a “shoot-out” over a seat with the team for the 2022 Formula 1 season.

Russell is deputising for Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix with the seven-time world champion ruled out due to testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week, after Mercedes struck a deal with Williams to secure the Briton’s services on a short-term loan deal.

The decision to place Russell alongside Bottas in the W11 instead of the team’s official reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne has led some to suggest that Mercedes could use the weekend as a direct evaluation as a reference point to decide upon who it places in its cars for 2022.

Bottas’ current deal expires at the end of next season, while Hamilton is expected to agree to a new contract to remain with Mercedes for at least one more year.

But Wolff firmly denied the notion of a showdown between Russell and Bottas, stressing that one or potentially two races worth of data would not provide Mercedes with what it needs in order to make such a call over its future line-up.

“Not at all,” said Wolff. “I’ve heard this rumour. Obviously you can’t call it a ‘shoot-out’ when it’s about one or two races. That doesn’t give you any meaningful data whatsoever.

“If George does well it’s an indication that one day he’s going to be in a good car and hopefully race for victories and world championships. But that is far away, he knows that and he just needs to deliver a solid job and not make any mistakes.

“There is no shoot-out. We have total trust in Valtteri and loyalty as we’ve always had and that is our position.”

Russell immediately impressed on his Mercedes debut by setting the pace in opening practice in Bahrain, while Bottas was only fourth-quickest.

Wolff said the weekend will simply provide Mercedes with “another set of data points” to gain a further understanding of its junior Russell’s performances.

“It’s another set of data points that will be giving us more information in our overall understanding of George’s performances,” Wolff explained.

“We know that we [will] race next year with Lewis and Valtteri. Where we are in 2022 is all going to depend on where our own season in ’22 is going to go and not by George’s performance on an oval in Bahrain and in a season final in Abu Dhabi.”

 

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