With Lewis Hamilton signing a two-year extension to his current Mercedes contract back in July, we all know the seven-time champion is still going to be the main man within the team.
However with team principal Toto Wolff calling the summer break as the time when he announces who will partner Hamilton in the Mercedes for the start of the 2022 season, I look at the two main contenders for the seat and who ultimately, I think will be given the opportunity next season.
It makes sense to start with the current driver at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas. Since he joined the team in 2017 following the retirement of Nico Rosberg, Bottas has claimed nine wins and 55 podiums for the team.
Although during his years at Mercedes he has shown his pace and one-lap skill in qualifying, his race-craft has been far below the level of his teammate Hamilton, who in the same number of races since the Finn joined the team, has won 46 races.
This disparity in wins for both drivers in the same machinery is what convinces me that Bottas will not drive for Mercedes next season, as it simply hasn’t been enough.
Yes, he has proven himself to be a great team player, but with rivals Red Bull upping their game this year, high-scoring points each race weekend are more essential than ever to winning the constructors’ championship.
A young man who perhaps can match Bottas’ abilities as a team player, while also producing better overall race weekend performances, is George Russell. The favourite to claim the second Mercedes seat is currently racing at Williams, where he has been driving ever since the start of the 2019 season.
Furthermore, Russell is in the Mercedes Junior Driver Program and regularly tests for the team as recently as this month, as well as raced one weekend for the team at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 in place of Hamilton.
With the ability to outperform his team-mate in every single F1 qualifying session for Williams so far, as well as outperform the car itself in putting it into Q3 on occasions as recently as this year’s British GP, Russell clearly has the pace and experience beyond what his age may suggest.
A first points score for Williams in the last race weekend at Hungary also may prove huge for Russell and his chances with Mercedes, showing he is able to outperform the car not only on a Saturday but also hold the nerve to do it on a Sunday.
Finally, at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Russell commented over the radio that he was willing to put his race to one side to help his team-mate Nicholas Latifi get a good point score, maybe a subtle hint to Wolff that he can work being second fiddle to Hamilton which he would do at Mercedes.
An outside name may have been former Mercedes test driver and now F1 race winner Esteban Ocon, however he recently signed with Alpine until the end of the 2024 season.
This leaves really therefore only the two men already mentioned, and I think it makes perfect sense to promote the younger and more exciting prospect Russell into the seat for 2022.
His relationship with Mercedes for many years puts him in a great position to bed into the team quickly, and it may also make sense for Bottas to return to his former team in a driver swap, where he previously secured seven podiums and will give him a great chance to start a fresh at Williams in a new season where anyone could challenge at the top given the new regulations coming into play.