Mercedes: 'Too early' to put George Russell up against Lewis Hamilton
Russell praised by Mercedes boss Wolff but it's a straight fight between Bottas and Ocon for F1 2020 seat
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 19/08/19 11:31am
Mercedes believe George Russell is a future F1 world champion but claim it is "too early" to consider the British rookie for a 2020 drive alongside Lewis Hamilton.
Russell, the highly-rated Mercedes junior driver, has a three-year contract with the struggling Williams but some impressive performances had seen the 21-year-old heavily linked with a Silver Arrows seat for next season.
Russell told reporters in Hungary that he'd be "stupid" not to consider the role should Mercedes come calling as they consider Valtteri Bottas' future - and since then Red Bull have brought in Alex Albon, another F1 rookie who finished behind Russell in the F2 championship last year.
Toto Wolff, however, says it is now a straight fight between Bottas and Esteban Ocon to be Hamilton's F1 2020 team-mate - insisting he doesn't want to "burn" Russell at a young age.
"I don't think that you are given the possibility to learn in a Mercedes because you are put in a car that is able to win races and championships, in a high-pressure environment," the Mercedes team boss explained.
"I think that it can go terribly wrong - for a young driver who has the talent to become a world champion - if he's thrown in that environment next to the best driver of his generation, who has been with us for seven years.
"I wouldn't want to burn George. I think it would come too early."
Although Williams have been distant backmarkers this season, Russell has still shone next to experienced team-mate Robert Kubica and nearly made a miraculous Q2 appearance in Hungary before finishing 16th in the race.
"I think he's in a very good place at Williams," added Wolff. "He's helped them to come back to form and he appreciates when a car functions well. And also I try to respect all contracts we sign.
"We signed a contract, we knew what we were doing and this is where he is with Williams and this is where he's got to learn."
Mercedes have a seat available for next season because Bottas is only on a one-year contract, while Ocon is currently their reserve driver.
'Verstappen the exception'
Wolff has also ruled Max Verstappen out of contention for an F1 2020 drive - but admitted that the Red Bull star, just five months older than Russell, is the "exception to the norm" when it comes to young drivers.
Verstappen made his debut at Toro Rosso as a 17-year-old in 2015 before joining senior team Red Bull a year later, and is now one of F1's most consistent and fast performers.
"I think you've got to consider that these guys come into Formula 1 at a very young age," Wolff told reporters.
"There are exceptions to the norm, such as Max Verstappen, that have been given an environment, Toro Rosso, to make mistakes - and even at Red Bull. For two and half years he was given the room to make mistakes.
"It's impressive to see his progression, in all kind of aspects. In terms of personality, there's not bad word said about Honda and only good words about his team. That is absolutely the right behaviour of a driver and I wouldn't expect anything else.
"But he was also given the opportunity, even though he's extremely talented and well developed by his environment, he to learn and that is certainly a strength of Red Bull and Toro Rosso situation."