F1 preview: A lap of the Belgian Grand Prix
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Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has become the latest figure to give his opinion on Mercedes’ dilemma ahead of next season. Valtteri Bottas faces pressure from Williams’ exciting young prospect George Russell to keep his seat as Lewis Hamilton’s back-up, with team principal Toto Wolff still yet to decide their fate.
Rumours are swirling around that the experienced Finnish driver will be replaced by Russell following a relatively disappointing season in the Mercedes hotseat to date.
Bottas, who has been with Mercedes since 2017, is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Standings – 87 points behind leader and team-mate Hamilton with Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in second and third respectively heading into the Belgian Grand Prix.
It was hoped that Mercedes boss Wolff would make his final decision on Bottas and Russell’s future during the mid-season hiatus, but no one is any the wiser and the position still appears to be up for grabs.
And on Thursday, Bottas remained tight-lipped when pressed about his future while Russell was sitting right beside him during his press conference.
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“There’s no news to share yet. Maybe I know more, maybe not. In any case I can’t share any news,” replied Bottas, who has formed a formidable partnership with Hamilton at Mercedes since 2017.
Both Verstappen and Leclerc both admitted on Thursday that Mercedes should give Russell the chance to prove his worth after tough years with Williams, who have been battling it out near the back of the grid for quite some time.
And Ferrari star Leclerc has gone one step further by explaining what makes the 23-year-old Brit so special – insisting that Russell’s brilliance in qualifying should be looked at more when discussing his potential.
”To do one special lap at any given time is very, very difficult”, Leclerc said, as quoted by The Race. “And also for the best drivers on the grid it is very, very difficult.
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Ferrari’s Leclerc then added: ”I can see what George is going through. I can understand that situation. I don’t know if it affects him or not. I don’t think it does. And it shouldn’t – he’s doing great.”
Russell knows plenty of eyes will be on him this weekend in Belgium with his F1 future up in the air, but many already know that he has what it takes to compete with Mercedes.
Russell endured heartache when stepping in for Hamilton at last season’s Sakhir Grand Prix following the seven-time world champion’s positive Covid test.
Russell appeared destined for a remarkable win on his debut for Mercedes but a tyre mix-up and then a puncture shattered his dreams in Bahrain before he eventually finished ninth.
Meanwhile, the F1 calendar gets going again this weekend in Belgium, with Hamilton and Verstappen renewing their thrilling title rivalry.
Mercedes and Hamilton have regained authority in the title race over the last few races, after disaster for Verstappen at both the British and Hungary Grand Prix.
Mercedes, who have won the last seven Constructors’ titles, are in the lead once more while Hamilton now has an eight-point lead over his Red Bull rival.
Verstappen knows it’s crunch time in the title race, and will be desperate to pip the British great to top spot in Belgium come Sunday afternoon.
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