Russell plays down early Mercedes move

George Russell has dampened speculation about the prospect of an early move to Mercedes after his impressive performance as stand-in for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The 22-year-old Briton fuelled some chatter when he said in Bahrain last Sunday that he hoped he had given Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff a selection headache “not just for 2022, maybe sooner”.

“That was just a throwaway remark in the heat of the moment,” Russell told reporters at Formula One’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Thursday.

“Obviously emotions were high and what have you. I have a contract and am a Williams driver for 2021.”

Valtteri Bottas is out of contract at the end of next season, when Mercedes-managed Russell will be firmly in the frame for a move.

The youngster is still waiting to hear whether Hamilton, still isolating in Bahrain, can race at Yas Marina after testing positive for COVID-19.

“We’re still waiting to get Lewis’s results back. For now we are going ahead as planned. If Lewis returns with a negative result, he will be back in the car,” the team said.

Russell arrived at the track in Mercedes kit and got down to work with the engineers for the usual preparation. He said there was plenty to do.

“Last Friday was all about learning, taking in all the information, learning the procedures,” he said of stepping in at short notice in Bahrain, a race he led before being denied a first win by pitstop confusion and a puncture.

“This Friday will be about improving the car, tuning the set up to my driving,” he said.

“My engineers have already understood my way of working, my way of driving and we can try and tailor the car more to my needs.

“Last week was just running with Lewis’s set up which is obviously a very good baseline but I’m not Lewis and I have slightly different needs to extract more from myself and the team.”

Russell said minor modifications had been made, including on the steering wheel, but more was needed.

“The adrenaline of driving this car and fighting for victories allows you to power through the pain,” he said.

The Briton revealed also that his mother and sister were in tears after the race.

“We live this together, this sport, and it’s so passionate. Emotions are so high and this was my first opportunity not just to win but to actually score points. That was such a big difference,” he said.

“Having that taken away from us not once but twice was difficult. But having time to reflect on the weekend, I’ve left with my head held high and proud of the job we managed to achieve.”

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