Wolff cagey on 2022 Mercedes driver line-up

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Toto Wolff expects to soon start contract talks with Lewis Hamilton after the seven-times Formula 1 world champion indicated he intends to race on next season, but the Mercedes team boss was cagey when it came to who would be in the other car.

The sport’s most successful driver is out of contract at the end of this year but at the Portuguese Grand Prix, on Thursday, Hamilton told reporters: “I plan to be here next year“.

Hamilton and Mercedes spent much of last year negotiating before they announced a one-year deal in February, with the season starting in March, and Wolff has said they would not leave it so late again.

“I think we’re in a very good place,” the Austrian said on Saturday. “Our relationship is growing stronger every year and it’s about time to really give it a little nudge and start to speak and this is what we are going to do soon.”

Wolff answered ‘no’ to a question about whether negotiations had already started.

Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who qualified on pole for Sunday’s race at the Algarve circuit with Hamilton second, is also out of contract at the end of the year with Mercedes-contracted driver George Russell a possible replacement.

The pair collided at the previous race at Italy’s Imola circuit. Asked what any decision between the two might come down to, Wolff said in a video call: “I hope one day I wake up and it becomes clear.

“I think we need to look into the season, how the races unfold and then it is a judgement call, I think. Not a very scientific response but I haven’t got any at the moment,” added Wolff.

Russell qualified 11th in Portugal in his Williams team’s best qualifying performance since 2018.

The Briton, a Formula Two champion, showed his potential when he stood in for Hamilton in Bahrain last year and might have won but for team errors and misfortune.

Russell led both Friday practice sessions for the Sakhir race, qualified on the front row within a fraction of pole-sitting Bottas and seized the lead at the start. He also set fastest lap.

A Mercedes tyre mix-up, an extra pitstop and then a late puncture after a charge back to second thwarted his bid for victory and he ended up ninth. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)