Alfa Romeo have announced Valtteri Bottas will leave Mercedes to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen on a multi-year deal from next season.

Bottas has raced for Mercedes since 2017, winning nine races across that period and helping the Silver Arrows to four constructors' championships.

However, the 32-year-old's future has been the subject of much speculation in recent months and it has now been confirmed he will leave Mercedes at the end of the 2021 season.

The Finn's exit paves the way for George Russell's likely graduation to Mercedes to partner fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton from next season onwards.

Bottas will bring plenty of experience to Alfa Romeo, having twice finished as runner-up to Hamilton in the Driver Standings and also secured 53 podiums in 92 starts for Mercedes. 

"A new chapter in my racing career is opening," he said in a statement on Monday. 

"I'm excited to join Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN for 2022 and beyond for what is going to be a new challenge with an iconic manufacturer.

"Alfa Romeo is a brand that needs no introduction; they have written some great pages of Formula 1 history and it's going to be an honour to represent this marque. 

"The potential of the setup in Hinwil is clear and I am relishing the opportunity to help lead the team forward up the grid, especially with the new regulations in 2022 giving the team a chance to make a leap in performance.

"I'm grateful for the trust the team has put in me and I cannot wait to repay their faith: I'm as hungry as ever to race for results and, when the time comes, for wins. 

"I know Fred [Vasseur] well and I am looking forward to getting to know the rest of the team I am going to work with, building relationships as strong as the ones I have at Mercedes.

"I am proud of what I have achieved in Brackley and I am fully focused on finishing the job as we fight for another world championship, but I am also looking forward to the new challenges that await me next year."

The news of Bottas' arrival comes after Raikkonen announced last week he is to retire at the end of the season. Alfa Romeo have yet to announce who will partner Bottas next year.

Bottas will reunite with Alfa Romeo team principal Vasseur after the pair previously worked together at ART in F3 in 2009 and 2010, and in GP3 in 2011.

Vasseur said: "It is a pleasure to welcome Valtteri to the team and we are looking forward to our journey together. With him, we bring to Hinwil a strong team player with experience at the sharp end of the grid.

"Valtteri has been an integral part of a team that rewrote the history books and he has four constructors’ world titles to his name: he is the right driver to help Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN make a step forward towards the front of the grid."

Toto Wolff has revealed only paperwork is preventing Mercedes from announcing their 2022 driver line-up, with George Russell expected to join Lewis Hamilton.

Much of this season has been dominated by talk around the second Silver Arrows seat, with the incumbent Valtteri Bottas under pressure from Russell.

Bottas finished third at the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday to move up to third in the drivers' championship, but Russell claimed his first Formula One podium in the previous race at Spa.

The Williams man – a junior Mercedes driver – is now expected to make the step up, with Kimi Raikkonen's imminent retirement potentially opening space for Bottas at Alfa Romeo.

Alex Albon, who drove for Red Bull in 2019 and 2020 and remains on their books, has been linked with Russell's Williams seat.

Asked after Sunday's race if Mercedes' next move could be confirmed as soon as next week, at the Italian Grand Prix, team principal Wolff told Sky Sports: "Yeah, I think there's a pretty good chance – at least 50-50. The reason for waiting is the signature on the paper."

First, however, Mercedes still have a fight on their hands this year, just ahead of Red Bull in the constructors' championship but with Max Verstappen leading Hamilton in the drivers' standings.

Red Bull's superior pace was evident at Zandvoort, where Verstappen became the first Dutchman to win his home event.

"When [the other team] have the quickest car on track, whatever you try on strategy is difficult," Wolff said.

"Credit to Max, credit to Red Bull, they were really faultless today."

Of Monza, the Mercedes boss added: "I think [it will be] good. It's so close together, and here Max was the quickest, his home track, you see the crowds.

"Monza is maybe going to be a bit of a different environment. We feel that we are still in the run for the championship."

A grinning Max Verstappen celebrated taking a home Dutch Grand Prix pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, while George Russell and Williams endured a day to forget.

Verstappen is only three points behind Formula One world championship leader and defending champion Lewis Hamilton after last week's controversial Belgian GP, and he has the backing of a fervent crowd this weekend.

No Dutch driver has ever won this event, but Verstappen will attack the race from pole position on its return after 35 years away.

The Red Bull superstar edged out Hamilton, who recovered well from missing a session on Saturday after breaking down, and another Mercedes in Valtteri Bottas.

Sergio Perez failed to even escape Q1, though, meaning Verstappen will not have the support of his team-mate at the front of the grid.

"It's an amazing feeling of course to get pole position here," Verstappen said over a significant din. "The crowd is incredible, and today was very enjoyable.

"The car was really nice to drive, and this track as well for qualifying, once the fuel comes out, it's really cool."

Verstappen had escaped a penalty for a potential red-flag breach when overtaking Lance Stroll in FP2 on Saturday.

And pole is set to be especially important at Zandvoort, where overtaking is always difficult.

The Dutchman's final run of one minute and 8.885 seconds increased his Q3 advantage, but Hamilton's late dash – 0.038 seconds slower – at least put him on the front row, enjoying a better outing than countryman Russell, who was second last time out.

It had looked like being another positive day for Williams – even with team principal Jost Capito absent as a precaution after contact with Kimi Raikkonen prior to his positive coronavirus test.

The team came into this race having had both drivers collect points in back-to-back races for the first time since 2016.

And Russell and Nicholas Latifi each again advanced through to Q2.

But there their day took a turn, with Russell prompting a first red flag when he lost the rear of his car heading into the final corner.

The short delay did not give the Briton enough time to resume the session, as he explained there was "a bit of damage on the rear suspension" but "nothing the guys won't be able to fix overnight".

Russell told Sky Sports: "We weren't quite on the pace this week as much as we would have hoped, and I was on a really good lap.

"I was just pushing too hard and ultimately just attacked that last corner too much and lost the rear. I'm sorry to the team, because that's not how we wanted to end qualifying."

By the time Russell faced the media, the session had been disrupted again, with team-mate Latifi careering into the barrier.

That brought a premature end to Q2 that at least gave Russell P11 as a consolation, knocking Lando Norris out.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:08.885
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.038secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.337
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.593
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.642
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.652
7. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +0.705
8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.048
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.071
10. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.281

Max Verstappen believes George Russell will make life "very difficult" for Lewis Hamilton if he replaces Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year.

Williams driver Russell has been tipped to take Bottas' seat, with Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff having revealed his desire to finalise his driver line-up for 2022 this month.

Russell stepped in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year after the seven-time Formula One world champion tested positive for coronavirus.

The 23-year-old also conducted a Pirelli tyre test for Mercedes ahead of the mid-season break and Verstappen thinks his arrival would keep his fellow Brit Hamilton on his toes.

"If he joins then for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by three points in the battle for the title, said ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend.

"He jumped into the car in Bahrain and basically from lap one he was making it very difficult for Valtteri, so you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car and the more you get accustomed within the team, naturally you're going to get faster.

"When you do your first race you're guided by the team about setup direction because you just don’t know what to do really, initially, with the car.

"I remember my first race at Red Bull, the thing I said was is that we will just follow a bit what Daniel [Ricciardo] is doing because I have no clue about what this car needs to go quick because even though F1 cars look pretty similar, the way of setting them up can be very different.

"I am very confident - already what you could see with the performance he did in Spa was really good.

"Of course, they set up the car a bit more for wet conditions but nevertheless to do that in a Williams was very impressive. I do expect him to do very well if he gets that seat."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc echoed Verstappen's sentiments.

“I have actually been team-mates with George for a year in karting and I think what I have seen of him since that time, is just that he is extremely talented," he said.

"Every time he gets into the car he's just quick straightaway, so his talent makes him special.

"If he goes to Mercedes next year, and I hope he does because I think he deserves a chance there, I'm pretty sure he will perform very, very well and impress more than one person."

A Belgian Grand Prix washout only increased the intrigue in the two biggest battles in Formula One this season ahead of a return to Zandvoort.

The Dutch GP is back on the calendar for the first time since 1985 – when only three drivers on the current grid had been born.

There should be more racing this week than at Spa, where rain wrecked the weekend, and plenty of drama is in store.

The two biggest beneficiaries from the two-lap procession last time out were Max Verstappen and George Russell.

Verstappen closed to within three points of Lewis Hamilton thanks to his position on pole, while Russell claimed a first career podium as he bids to beat Valtteri Bottas to the second Mercedes seat.

Existing Silver Arrows stars Hamilton and Bottas will aim to respond on Sunday, although time may have run out for the Finn to make his mark.

LAST TIME OUT

Verstappen just pipped Russell to pole on Saturday at Spa but could not have known then how crucial that final dash would prove.

Sunday's race was delayed and delayed by awful weather, finally starting under the safety car only for a red flag to bring the drivers in once more.

With two laps fulfilled, it was enough to declare a result, giving Verstappen a precious win and Russell an improbable podium.

Until the Hungarian GP, immediately prior to the mid-season break, Russell's only F1 points had come in Hamilton's Mercedes as a reserve last season.

But an eighth-placed finish was followed by his best result yet, capping a great weekend for Williams, who also had Nicholas Latifi in the points for a second straight race.

Bottas was at Williams, alongside Felipe Massa, the last time they had two drivers do that back in 2016, but the team are eager to see Russell now get his chance at Mercedes.

Toto Wolff confirmed in Belgium the call had been made on their 2022 driver, and Williams team principal Jost Capito told Channel 4 of Russell: "I do not want to hang on to him.

"As he, the driver, can win the championship, he deserves a car that can win the championship, and he can do that in the Mercedes.

"And I am convinced he will come back in a couple of years and win the championship with us."

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NETHERLANDS

Some racing would be nice, and Hamilton and Bottas will not be the only men out to make amends.

Lando Norris' crash in qualifying cost him dear as he was unable to recover on race day, finishing 14th to continue a mini-slump after retiring in Hungary.

Focus will again be on the top two and on Russell, though.

With Williams having collected more points from their past two grands prix (20) than their previous 71 (15), he will be eyeing another unlikely challenge.

Russell could become the first Williams driver to claim consecutive podiums since Bottas' three in a row in 2014.

"Obviously off the back of last weekend in Spa, everyone just wants to get racing again and put on a show for all of the supporters at the circuit and for those watching around the world on TV," he said.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Return to form for Ferrari? – Back when Zandvoort was a regular on the F1 calendar, Ferrari registered more wins (eight), fastest laps (10) and podiums (24) than any other team at the Dutch GP.

Max out to make history – Verstappen could become the first Dutch driver ever to celebrate a win in his own country in F1. It would be only the third home Benelux win after Verstappen's triumph in Belgium and Jacky Ickx's 1971 Dutch GP success.

Red Bull front row regulars – After Spa, Red Bull have as many pole positions this season (six) as in the rest of the hybrid era combined. Another would take them level with Lotus on 47 all-time, tied fifth.

Hamilton hunting milestones – Still one win shy of 100 in F1, victory would also see Hamilton become the first driver to 4,000 points and give him his 175th podium.

Another to tick off – Hamilton has wins (29) and pole positions (30) at the most different circuits as he prepares to tackle his 34th. Meanwhile, fellow Zandvoort debutant Fernando Alonso has earned points at each of the prior 32 tracks at which he has appeared.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 202.5
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 199.5
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 113
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 108
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 303
2. Red Bull – 291
3. Ferrari – 163
4. McLaren – 163
5. Alpine – 77

George Russell earned a front-row spot for the Belgian Grand Prix as it was revealed Mercedes have decided whether to recruit him for next season.

The young British driver defied expectations of what the Williams car could achieve by producing a stunning qualifying lap in the rain at Spa.

Only a last-ditch effort by title hopeful Max Verstappen denied Russell a first career pole, while Lewis Hamilton took third place on the grid.

It may be that Hamilton and Russell become team-mates next season, if Mercedes decide to part ways with Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed on Saturday that the team have chosen their line-up for 2022, but that they will keep it private for now.

According to multiple reports, Wolff twice replied "Yes" in a media call when asked if that big call had already been made.

"Today doesn't make any difference," Wolff said. "We know what we have with George."

Russell is a part of Mercedes' young driver programme and was recalled to his parent team to replace a COVID-19 affected Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix last season, an indication of Wolff's high regard for his ability.

Wolff said of Mercedes' recent quandary over Bottas and Russell: "If it would have been an easy decision, we would have made it earlier, because we know what we have with Valtteri and we know what we have with George.

"Both of them deserve being looked after. Both deserve to be looked after in the best possible way, because both of them are part of the family, and we hold them up high."

Russell said there "probably should be" points awarded for qualifying performance, as he reflected on the fact he has taken no such reward yet this weekend. But the 23-year-old believes he can be a force in Sunday's race, particularly if the track is again wet.

He said: "We've obviously got to be realistic, we've got incredibly fast cars behind us, but if the conditions stay the same, we've got a car that's probably quick enough on merit in the top 10.

"But if we're starting from the front row, there's no reason why we can't try to hold that position for the majority of the race. I don't think I’m going to do anything stupid with the cars around me that are clearly going to be faster than us – but there's no reason why we can’t finish, if conditions are like this, top five, and just maximise it. Points is an absolute minimum."

Verstappen said: "This track is amazing to drive in the dry and when you then have a wet qualifying, it's pretty ... I wouldn't say scary but it's really interesting and quite extreme in Q3 when you know that you have to push and try to go to the limit in the wet here."

Championship leader Hamilton said the Mercedes race pace "should be a little bit stronger" than in practice. "But I still think it's going to be a handful, particularly if it's going to be these conditions," he added.

 

The season broke for summer after the Hungarian Grand Prix at the start of August, and Saturday marked a return to the thrills and spills of the sport.

The conditions were particularly tough in the third and final stage of qualifying as heavy rain arrived at the circuit, with Lando Norris crashing out early and leaving his McLaren a heavily damaged heap.

Norris, who had shown excellent pace up to that point, was given the all-clear after an elbow X-ray in hospital and looks set to race.

He had complained of aquaplaning moments before crashing badly, his car sliding into the barrier on the left side of the track at Eau Rouge and spinning out of control across the track.

He said over the team radio: "I let you down, my bad."

However, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had wanted the session red-flagged before the crash happened and told his team on hearing of the crash: "What did I say, red flag? It's unnecessary. Is he OK?"

Vettel was quickly on the scene and stopped to check Norris was safe before driving on past the damaged McLaren.

There was succour for McLaren as Daniel Ricciardo took fourth on the grid, just ahead of Vettel, but it was a shocker of a day for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz qualified in 10th and 12th respectively. 

Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies said: "Our qualifying performance was well below our usual standard and so far this whole weekend has proved very difficult for us."

Max Verstappen took pole position at a soggy Belgian Grand Prix – and incredibly it will be George Russell alongside him on the front row.

A stunning final lap from Russell looked set to give the Williams driver a first career pole, but Formula One title hopeful Verstappen pipped him in the closing seconds.

British 23-year-old Russell, who has been tipped for a move to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season, said he was "absolutely buzzing" about his performance, defying the limitations of his car with a supreme drive.

Hamilton took third on the grid and saluted Russell's performance, with Daniel Ricciardo fourth.

The qualifying session was disrupted by heavy rain and a heavy crash for Lando Norris – Ricciardo's McLaren team-mate – which caused a hold-up in Q3 of close to 45 minutes.

Moments before smashing into the barriers, Norris complained about the conditions, and Sebastian Vettel had called for the session to be red-flagged before the crash made it an inevitability. Norris was taken to hospital for a precautionary elbow X-ray.

The drivers returned to the wet track eventually, with Hamilton quick to point out that spray remained a problem. He set an early target of 2:01.552 but Russell producing a stunning lap to go quicker.

Verstappen and Hamilton were both out on the track and chasing the new target as the clock ran down, with only the former able to achieve that.

After three weeks since the last race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, this was a return to the thrills and spills of the sport.

"I'm super happy to have a qualifying like this after the break and to have a pole position again," said Verstappen.

Russell has been on the front row once before, but that came in a Mercedes when he stood in for Hamilton last season at the Sakhir Grand Prix. He said getting out of Q1, the initial stage of the qualifying session, had been his primary target at Spa, with anything else a bonus.

"The car was feeling great and I had so much confidence," Russell said. "I was in a fortunate position where I had nothing to lose. We were in Q3 which is not the norm for us and we just had to go for it.

"I'm buzzing, absolutely buzzing. Tomorrow's the important one but it's been mega today. I'm delighted for everyone. If the weather is the same and it's there for the taking tomorrow, we'll go for it."

Hamilton, who edged ahead of Verstappen in the drivers' standings by finishing second in Hungary, said it had been "a very difficult day for everyone" due to the inclement weather.

"Well done to Max and to George," Hamilton added. "If it's like this tomorrow it's going to be tricky to balance straight line speed and downforce."
 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:59.765
2. George Russell (Williams) +0.321secs
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.334
4. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.099
5. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.170
6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.399
7. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +2.347
8. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +2.737
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +3.748
10. Lando Norris (McLaren) no complete lap in Q3

Valtteri Bottas and George Russell on Thursday stated there was "no news" of who will partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next year.

Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff this week affirmed his desire to finalise his driver line-up for 2022 in September.

Williams driver Russell stepped in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year after the seven-time Formula One world champion tested positive for coronavirus.

The 23-year-old Brit also conducted a Pirelli tyre test for Mercedes ahead of the mid-season break, adding further fuel to suggestions he could take Bottas' seat.

Bottas and Russell were paired for media conference duties ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, with neither driving giving much away over their futures.

"There's no news to share yet,” said Bottas. "Maybe I know something, maybe I don't but like I said there's no news to share."

 

Russell said: "No news to share at this stage.

"There's obviously been 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 I think is no problem. Do things right, rather than quickly, let's say.

"I think we're both fortunate that we're both looked after in ways by Mercedes and we both trust them to look after our futures, one way or another.

"From my side, speaking for myself, there's no real problems and whether it's tomorrow, whether it's after Abu Dhabi, I guess you have to trust the people that are looking out for you."

George Russell will get behind the wheel of a Mercedes this week as speculation around a Formula One promotion persists.

Russell is widely considered to be vying with current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas for a seat next season.

And the Williams man will get the opportunity to join the team in Hungary on Tuesday to test the 18-inch tyres that will be used in 2022.

Russell was part of Mercedes' junior driver programme before getting his F1 opportunity with Williams and has tested for the Silver Arrows previously.

The 23-year-old even stood in for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when the world champion had tested positive for coronavirus.

A pit-stop mix-up cost Russell the victory on that occasion, but a ninth-placed finish secured his first points.

The Bottas rivalry will draw extra attention to Russell's performance this week, though, coming straight after his best ever result at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Russell finished eighth, earning points with Williams for the first time.

Bottas had started from second after a record-equalling 80th qualifying one-two for Mercedes, but he crashed on lap one in a chaotic start.

Lewis Hamilton has confirmed he has held "positive" talks with Mercedes over his future.

Speculation surrounded Hamilton for the majority of the 2020 Formula One season as he won a record-equalling seventh drivers' championship.

The Briton returned to Mercedes for this campaign but only signed a one-year deal, meaning he is again out of contract at the end of the year.

Hamilton is engaged in a gripping title tussle with Max Verstappen, who leads the championship for the first time in his career.

P7, P15 and P2 finishes across the past three races have opened up a 12-point gap at the summit.

Only in 2016 (five, twice) has Hamilton gone longer without a victory since 2014, but the Silver Arrows remain keen to keep their prized asset on board.

"[There is] not a lot to say too much on, but we have had discussions and things are positive," said Hamilton ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix.

 

Should he wish to commit to Mercedes, Hamilton is assured of a seat, having claimed 98 wins and 100 poles in his F1 career – two records.

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas is less secure, with Mercedes' team principal openly discussing the option of promoting George Russell.

But Hamilton said: "Valtteri is my team-mate now. Both of us have had ups and downs in our careers, but he is a fantastic team-mate and I don't necessarily see that it needs to change.

"We have worked well for many years. Valtteri has been my best team-mate overall, and when I say team-mate it's not just driver performance, it's about team morale and how you work in the team-mate environment."

On Russell, who drove for Mercedes in Hamilton's place late last season, the reigning champion added: "He's not my team-mate currently, so [there is] no need to say anything on it."

George Russell hopes Williams can make a flying start to the Formula One season in Bahrain - but he believes Mercedes are the only team who will be sure they are race-ready.

British driver Russell caught the eye when he replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for one race last year, after the world champion tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Sakhir Grand Prix.

He went close to winning that race until a pit-stop error and a puncture late on cost him a probable victory, and he then returned to his regular drive at Williams.

Mercedes have assured Russell, who is part of their junior driver programme, that he can have a racing future with them if his development continues as expected.

That could come as soon as next year, but for now Russell's focus is on delivering for Williams.

The team has been in transition following the takeover by Dorilton Capital, and German motorsport veteran Jost Capito was appointed chief executive officer during the close season.

Russell believes Williams, who failed to score a point last season, should be better placed in 2021 to at least improve on that disappointing outcome.

"We want, the bare minimum, to be fighting with the Haas and the Alfas, as we did last year, and closing the gap to that midfield," Williams said.

"We made nine out of 17 Q2 appearances and that is definitely a thrill. That's got to be almost an aim every weekend for myself and team."

The season begins in Bahrain on March 28, and by then there should be evidence of which teams have made progress since 2020, with testing taking place, also in Bahrain, on the March 12-14 long weekend.

Russell admits it is a waiting game to see how rivals have advanced, or regressed.

"Fingers crossed that they go backwards and we go forwards," he said, in an Instagram chat on Formula One's official page. 

"Ultimately, we may go to Bahrain and see every other team has progressed more than us.

"We may go there and see we've made great progress. Until we get to Bahrain not a single team, probably bar Mercedes, can tell you how they're going to perform."

Russell, 23, has been tipped for a big future in the sport. He also believes Williams, a great name from the history of Formula One, can begin a journey back to the top of the sport.

"The arrival of Jost is massive for the team, really exciting," he said. "The future for Williams and everybody here at Grove [the team's headquarters] is really great.

"Unfortunately, things don't change in a matter of moments in Formula One, but the building blocks are really getting set in stone.

"Jost has loads of experience, he's a great character, and I think he's going to bring a lot of motivation to the team."

Russell was speaking on the day F1 chiefs confirmed the Portuguese Grand Prix on the new season's calendar, with the race inked in for May 2.

It will be the second round of 23 in the championship, with Portugal having returned to the Formula One rota last year for the first time since 1996.

George Russell has no intention of "hassling" Mercedes over his future as he focuses on trying to get the most out of a new-look Williams car in 2021.  

The British driver is heading into the final year of his contract with Williams, where he will once again work alongside Nicholas Latifi for the season.  

It will be a third year for Russell with the team, though he did step in to drive for Mercedes - having previously been part of their junior driver programme - at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, replacing Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time world champion tested positive for COVID-19. 

His performance in the race - he was in front for the majority before a slow puncture forced him to settle for ninth place - led to speculation over a permanent switch, but Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have remained together.  

While a move could still happen at some stage further down the line, Russell is relaxed over his standing within Mercedes.  

"Mercedes and Toto have always had my back and believed in me from day one. When they believe the time is right, the time will be right," he told Sky Sports at the launch of Williams' FW43B car.  

"I'm not hassling them, I’m just going out there and doing my job on the track. What comes in the future will come.  

"Obviously I had a great opportunity in Bahrain last year, but for now we will focus on the job here at Williams for this season and trying to get the most out of it."

In a somewhat surprising move, Hamilton only agreed to a one-year extension earlier this year, committing him to a ninth season with Mercedes.

Bottas' deal runs "at last until the end of 2021", per the team's statement when the Finn's future was revealed last August, so Russell could potentially be considered to replace either driver in 2022.

"Every driver wants to put themselves against the best," he said when asked if forming a partnership with Hamilton appealed to him.

"I believe in myself and Lewis is the benchmark at the moment, but equally you have a lot of fantastic drivers out there who might not have the same CV as Lewis.  

"Max [Verstappen], Charles [Leclerc], Lewis – they are all on the same level. Putting yourself against one of those three would be great for any driver."

Williams - now owned by Dorilton Capital - unveiled a new blue, white and yellow livery on Friday that takes inspiration from the team's successful cars in the 1980s and 1990s.

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