Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff took a cheeky dig at rivals Red Bull as he made it clear Valtteri Bottas will not be losing his seat to George Russell at any point this season, joking that the Milton Keynes-based outfit like to play “musical chairs”.
Recent reports have suggested Russell, the Mercedes junior driver impressing with Williams, could displace Bottas as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate midway through the season.
Bottas and Russell collided at Imola earlier this season and were involved in a heated exchange of views afterwards, though the younger driver afterwards apologised for his reaction to the incident.
Russell, 23, is waiting patiently for a shot at Mercedes having impressed while driving Hamilton’s W12 in the Sakhir Grand Prix last year. He looked likely to seal a maiden Formula One win were it not for a team tyre mix-up.
He achieved his best ever qualifying position in the Williams in Portimao last weekend too, starting 11th although he ended up 16th at the end of the race, and has fared well for the British team despite their struggles in recent years.
Meanwhile although Bottas started on pole in Portugal, he trails Hamilton by 37 points after just three races and is also 29 behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen having had to retire at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix due to his coming together with Russell.
But Wolff insists there are no plans to swap out the Finn in favour of Russell before the end of this season, and took a swipe at Red Bull while discussing the Silver Arrows’ driver line-up.
“Yeah, absolutely, unless he gets flu and can’t drive he’s going to be in that car,” the Austrian decision-maker said of Bottas.
“I see no reason to change as these guys over there [gesturing to Red Bull] like to play, how do you say with the chairs? Musical chairs. So nope, no change expected.
“If you’re not happy with your wife and you start to look for other ones it’s not going to improve the relationship.
“I try to work on the relationship with my driver and achieve the best result for him before I’m starting to flirt with somebody else.”
Red Bull have famously changed drivers mid-season on several occasions, last doing so when they replaced Pierre Gasly with Alex Albon midway through 2019.
Bottas, 31, is out of contract at the end of the season and since joining Mercedes from Williams in 2017 has racked up nine race wins, 49 podium finishes and 17 pole positions.
“And if I’m being honest, I think we have the best line-up currently in terms of deliverables and the general knowledge in terms of moving our car forwards.
“At some stage, it’s going to shift, it’s going to change. I’m not going to be here forever, Valtteri won’t be here forever.
“But right now I think we’ve delivered time and time again over the years and we continue to.
“Valtteri finished on pole for the last race and it’s only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and just let him continue doing what he’s doing.”
It is unlikely to be the last time Wolff has to speak out on the prospect of Russell being promoted to Mercedes with Bottas and Hamilton both out of contract later this year, just as the young Briton is with Williams, whom he has raced for since 2019.