Toto Wolff admits George Russell is not being considered for the second seat at the Mercedes AMG Motorsport team for 2020 as he believes it would be too early in his Formula 1 career for him to be promoted to a front-line team.
Valtteri Bottas currently holds the drive but Wolff, the team principal of Mercedes, admits it is either the Finn or current reserve driver Esteban Ocon that will be Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate next season, with Russell likely to be given an additional year in a smaller team before becoming an option.
Wolff says he looked at what Red Bull Racing did with Max Verstappen before bringing him into their frontline team, with the Dutchman being given more than a year at Scuderia Toro Rosso before replacing Daniil Kvyat.
“I think you’ve got to consider that these guys come into F1 at a very young age,” Wolff is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com. “And there are exceptions to the norm, such as Max Verstappen, who was given the environment at Toro Rosso to learn, and to make mistakes, and even at Red Bull was given the room to make mistakes.
“It’s impressive to see his progression in all kinds of aspects, as a personality – there’s not one bad word about Honda, only good words about his team, the commitment to the team, and that is absolutely the right behaviour of a driver, I wouldn’t expect anything else.
“But he was also given the possibility, even though he’s extremely talented and well developed by his environment, to learn, to settle your strengths at Red Bull, and the Toro Rosso situation.”
According to Wolff, Russell would not be afforded the time to learn at Mercedes as he would be under pressure right from the start to perform, so it would be important for the current Williams Racing driver to continue his development away from the limelight so to avoid ‘burning’ him early.
“I don’t think you are given the possibility to learn in a Mercedes,” admits Wolff. “Because you’re being put in a car that is able to win races and championships, in a high pressure environment, and I think it can go terribly wrong for a young driver that has the talent to be become a world champion if he’s thrown into that environment next to the best driver of his generation, who has been with us for seven years.
“And I wouldn’t want to burn George. I think it would come too early, and on top of that I try to be respectful to all contracts we sign, and we signed a contract, we knew what we were doing with Williams, and this is where he’s going to learn.”
With a decision set to be made shortly about the Mercedes line-up for 2020, Wolff admits it is going to be tough on either Bottas or Ocon to who doesn’t get the seat, with the Austrian feeling both would deserve the opportunity to partner Hamilton next season.
“It’s a question between Esteban and Valtteri,” said Wolff. “We’ve been discussing it for a long time within the team, and I’ve been wrestling with myself on what is the right thing for the team, and what is the right thing for the drivers.
“And if we were to have only one of them, it would be a no-brainer to have them in the car. And in a way, both deserve the seat. Esteban, because he has been through tough situations, and he certainly has the motivation and the energy and the talent to be in a Mercedes.
“On the other side Valtteri has the experience and had proven again how fast he can go. He’s tremendously supportive in developing the team together with Lewis.
“So there’s lots of pros, some cons, and at the end what we decided is to really not thing about it more than we did already, wait for the Budapest weekend to pass, stick our heads together over the summer, and then come to a decision that is best for the team, and best for both, because we care for both.”