Bottas’ winter decision deadline was ’joke’ - Wolff
"The decision will be made in the summer"
Toto Wolff says he was "joking" when he declared that Mercedes’ decision about Valtteri Bottas’ future could be delayed until as late as February next year.
Wolff, Bottas and Williams driver George Russell touched down at Paul Ricard amid swirling rumours that the decision has already been made to replace Bottas with Russell for 2022.
Earlier, it was stated that a decision during the summer break was most likely - but Wolff suddenly changed his tune when asked ahead of the French GP.
"Sometime in the winter," the Mercedes team boss said when reporters asked what the deadline was.
"But I can’t say whether it will be December, January or February. A late decision like that is possible because we have always been loyal to our drivers."
But as soon as those soundbites hit the headlines, Wolff insisted he was actually "joking".
"The decision will be made in the summer," the Austrian now says.
"We won’t wait until December. This is too late. Silverstone? No, it’s too early.
"I think it would be great to do it in Monza, so that you (reporters) get a nice story."
2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, who was replaced by Bottas for 2017 and beyond, thinks the Finn remains the ideal deputy for Lewis Hamilton.
However, he admitted: "From the fan’s point of view, it would certainly be fascinating to have another driver in the second Mercedes.
"One who can put Lewis under a lot of pressure, one who represents the future and will one day replace Hamilton as number 1," the German added.
Another former driver, Ralf Schumacher, thinks Wolff’s dithering over the Bottas decision deadline is only understandable.
"What should Toto say?" he told Sport1. "He has to keep Bottas motivated."
However, Schumacher also thinks it is time for 23-year-old Russell to be promoted.
"He has to give Russell a chance soon," he said. "George won all the junior classes, did a great job at Williams, performed sensationally as Hamilton’s substitute at Sakhir.
"The Williams contract expires at the end of the year, so if not in 2022, then when?"
When asked what 31-year-old Bottas needs to do to protect his future in Formula 1, Wolff answered at Paul Ricard: "Drive fast on Saturday and Sunday.
"If he can do that, he’ll put himself in an excellent negotiating position.
"Sure, we can think about fresh blood, but that’s not the central point for us. We strive for consistently high competitiveness," Wolff insisted.
"Especially in a difficult year like this, we need two drivers who we know we can rely on."
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