F1 Silly Season Gets Even Sillier During George Russell, Valtteri Bottas Press Conference

Formula 1 has this odd way of conducting pre-race press conferences this season.

In the past, drivers would meet the media in 10 pairs by team—two Haas drivers followed by two Alfa Romeo drivers, two Williams drivers, two Red Bull drivers, etc. This year, F1 is spicing things up by bringing drivers into the bullring of the pre-race weekend press conferences in seemingly random pairings.

On Thursday at Spa-Francorchamps, ahead of Sunday’s F1 Belgian Grand Prix, the first presser of the day featured the unlikely pairing of Williams’ George Russell and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. This one had had the potential to be most interesting. Both drivers are in contention for one of the most prized seats in racing alongside Lewis Hamilton as Hamilton’s teammate at world champion Mercedes.

Bottas and Russell also have a bit of history in that the two crashed at Imola earlier this season.

There they sat, side-by-side—separated in chairs more than six feet apart as mandated by F1 in a pandemic—ready to tell the world that Russell was, in fact, going to replace Bottas next year. Or not. Both drivers went into the Formula 1 summer break talking as if they expected a decision during the break.

This press conference had all the ingredients of must-see TV, as they say.

The sound you are about to hear is the air going out of the big balloon when the drivers were asked the milllion-dollar question: Do you know yet, what you’re doing next year?

“No news to share, yet,” Bottas said. “Who knows? Maybe I know something, maybe I don’t. But, like I said, there’s no news to share.”

Russell, a Williams driver with close ties to Mercedes, toed the company line, as well.

“No news to share at this stage,” Russell said. “Obviously in discussions over the summer break, but there’s nothing to announce one way or another this weekend and probably not next weekend either, to be honest. Which is, I think is no problem. Do things right rather than quickly, let’s say.”

So, if the decision has been made by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolf, the drivers aren’t saying. And they seemed to be smiling under their COVID-mandated facemasks.

“Our personal relationship is fine,” said Russell, who will be starting his 50th F1 race this weekend. “We are competitors and it’s rare that two Formula 1 drivers or two competitors are best friends, but Valtteri and I are both grownups. We’ve moved on from everything in the past and there’s no issues from my side, at least.”

Added Bottas, “All good, everything is fine. Thanks for asking.”

The delay of the decision, or at least the announcement, would seem to put the loser of the Mercedes derby in a bit of a bind for 2022.

“We’re both fortunate that we’re both sort of looked after in ways by Mercedes and we both trust them to look after our futures one way or another,” Russell said. “From my side, there is no real problems. Whether it’s tomorrow or whether it’s after Abu Dhabi (at season’s end), you have to trust the people who are looking out for you.”

While Russell would likely have his seat at Williams if he doesn’t get the Mercedes ride, the Bottas situation is a bit more fluid as he would immediately become the top free agent in Formula 1.

“Things eventually will sort themselves out, and we’ll see.”

“From my side, it’s not problematic,” Bottas said. “It’s nothing new for me. The situation overall, I’m fine with it completely. Just really head down and focus for the weekend, and I’m pretty sure, like the next three weeks will definitely fly by with the tripleheader and we’re in a pretty good battle on hour hands as a team, and that’s the main focus. Things eventually will sort themselves out, and we’ll see.”

It’s possible that a driver decision has been made, but Mercedes is delaying the announcement.

“There’s no news to share,” Bottas continued. “I don’t need to clarify any reasons for that and it’s the same for me and George that we have a job to do here and there’s no news and we’re going to focus on racing and getting maximum points for the teams we are racing for.”

And that’s why it’s called silly season.

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