Williams’ George Russell insists he will be staying at the team in 2021, with team principal Simon Roberts restating the same.
After the Brit’s sterling performance in the Sakhir GP, when he raced in lieu of Lewis Hamilton, Russell was widely praised for his efforts, and a comment from the 22-year-old ignited conversation on his future, and a possible Mercedes drive – even as soon as 2021.
“I guess from Toto’s perspective, hopefully I’ve given him a headache, not just for 2022 but maybe sooner,” Russell had said in the wake of the race. The comment suggested that his 2021 contract with Williams could possibly be circumvented, and that so too could Valtteri Bottas’ be with Mercedes.
In Abu Dhabi, though, Russell clarified that the above was a “throwaway comment,” and insisted on a certain 2021 season with Williams – not Mercedes. “Obviously emotions were high and what have you,” he said to media in press conference. “But yeah, ultimately I have a contract and I’m a Williams driver for 2021.”
Interim Williams principal Simon Roberts dismissed the rumors as well, as he too restated that both Russell and Nicholas Latifi are signed on for 2021, and that the team’s focus is on developing a competitive car for the upcoming season.
“I guess from the inside we’ve known for quite some time what a talent Russell is,” said Roberts. “In Bahrain, he got a chance to show that talent on the world stage, and we are really pleased he got that opportunity. We’ve got Nicholas and George [Russell] signed for next year and the main thing we are working on right now is making sure we give them the best car possible.
“I’m as confident as I can be [that we’ll retain Russell] given that,” Roberts said. The ex-McLaren employee also exuded confidence about next year’s Williams in Abu Dhabi, it being one that he anticipates will be a significant step forward from today’s FW43.
Mercedes F1 chief Wolff played down any last-minutes changes too as he reiterated that Bottas will remain in his seat as will Russell his at Williams. “We have a contract with Valtteri and he is going to race next year,” Wolff told media including Motorsport Network, Racefans.net, F1, Motorsport Week and more. “You need to kick me quite hard in a sensitive zone for me to ever lose my loyalty.
“I am loyal to my two race drivers in the same way I am loyal to our junior drivers. George did a phenomenal job last weekend and he deserves to be in a great car one day. He has a contract with Williams for one more year and they have been very flexible and accommodating in giving George to Mercedes this other weekend. Everything is going to go its way, but calmly and in a structured way.”
While the Grove-based outfit has its regular racing seat fixed, its reserve and junior line-up has yet to be ascertained. They had Jack Aitken, Dan Ticktum, Rosy Nissany and Jamie Chadwick in various roles and when asked in particular about the British-Korean racer, Roberts noted that talks are on to understand how Williams want to go ahead with its junior drivers.
“Jack, we’d seen him in the car in Austria and he adopted a similar approach,” said Roberts. “He starts well; he builds through the weekend. He’s very competent in the car. He gave us good feedback. It wasn’t like we had a complete rookie in the car; he’s been in our simulator, he knows the team well, so he slotted in really well.
“In a way, it’s a shame couldn’t see him again this weekend, just as it’s a shame we couldn’t see Russell in the Mercedes again this weekend, because I think it’s a big ask. We didn’t overload Jack, we were careful with him and we made sure we built up the way the car works through the weekend and we gave him just enough to get the job done.
“But by the time we got into quali and the race he was as up to speed with our car as we expected and delivered a good result. We wanted him to push and he did so we were really pleasesd with what he achieved over the weekend. At the moment we’re still looking at what we do for support drivers next year. It’s an open question and I can’t really say any more than that right now,” summed up Roberts.
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