Valtteri Bottas looks increasingly on borrowed time at Mercedes after 22-year-old George Russell showed the Formula 1 world champions just how good he can be when they handed him a chance in a million this past weekend.
Russell, 22, was drafted in as a late replacement for Lewis Hamilton at Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix when the seven-times champion tested positive for COVID-19, but at times it looked like the older Briton was at the wheel.
Apart from qualifying, when Bottas took pole by a whisker, Russell had the measure of the Finn and could have won but for a team error and misfortune.
“We learned that George Russell is somebody to count on in the future,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. “He has all the potential and all the ingredients that a future star needs.”
Russell, the 2018 Formula 2champion, has a long-term contract with Mercedes and has been learning the ropes at struggling Williams. The future looks bright for him.
Less so for Bottas, who after being regularly beaten by one British driver, now has to worry about another taking his seat when his contract runs out at the end of 2021.
“If you don´t know things, I might have looked like a…fool you know,” said the Finn of an afternoon that saw him finish eighth and one place ahead of Russell.
“It will be very easy for people to say that a new guy comes in and beats the guy who´s been in the team for a few years.”
“But the people who know, they know how is the performance and how the end result could have been,” said Bottas, who has been at Mercedes since 2017.
Bottas has had plenty of misfortune – former racer Martin Brundle quipped on Sunday that if the Finn did not have bad luck he’d have no luck at all – and has won only twice this year, compared to Hamilton’s 11.
Hamilton, who will be 36 when the season starts next year, has yet to sign a contract extension but is expected to do so, and in the not-so-distant future may find himself in an all-British line-up.
“I can understand that it would be an interesting situation to have them both in the team, and maybe a bit of a wild ride for all of us,” said Wolff. “But maybe we´ll have them in the future.”