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."

Lewis Hamilton explained that he is still feeling the after-effects of coronavirus after producing an incredible fightback at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who started on pole as he chased a 100th Formula One race win in his stellar career, had to charge up the field after a mistake following a restart – a red flag having come out after Valtteri Bottas caused an early crash.

Five drivers were forced to retire early, with Bottas handed a five-place grid penalty for the next grand prix in Belgium at the end of August, but by the time the remaining competitors had finished a formation lap, the rain which had been around at the start had cleared and the track was dry.

Hamilton, however, elected not to change his tyres, so started on his own from the grid while the others pitted. By the time he had rectified his mistake he was last, but a mighty effort saw him clinch third place behind Sebastian Vettel and unlikely winner Esteban Ocon.

The seven-time world champion now leads Max Verstappen, who finished 10th after suffering damage in the earlier crash, in the standings, though Hamilton was handed a further boost late on Sunday when Vettel was retrospectively disqualified for not having enough fuel left in his car at the end of the race. Aston Martin announced they plan to appeal that decision.

However, during the podium presentation, Hamilton looked visibly exhausted and even struggled to hold up the bottle of champagne handed to him. He then saw Mercedes' team doctor and missed some of his post-race media duties.

"I'm ok, had real big dizziness and everything got a bit blurry on the podium," Hamilton, who contracted COVID-19 in December last year, told a news conference.

"I've been fighting all year really with staying healthy after what happened at the end of last year and it's still a battle.

"I haven't spoken to anyone about it, but I think [the effects of covid are] lingering. I remember the effects of when I had it and training has been different since then. The level of fatigue you get is different and it's a real challenge.

"I continue to train and prepare the best way I can. Today, who knows what it is? Maybe it's hydration, I don't know, but I've definitely not had this experience. Had something similar at Silverstone but this is way worse."

When asked why he did not to pit at the end of the formation lap, Hamilton said: "Through the formation lap I was just giving the team information. I mean, it was dry through all the corners and I kept telling them 'it's dry, dry, dry, dry' but they said just to stay out.

"I don't really understand but I'm sure it's definitely a mistake from us all but we win and lose as a team and we bear the burden of the mistake together and we just keep fighting, so the team did an amazing job with the strategy, with pitstops, and I just had to make it work out there."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes the team – who now lead the constructors' championship – made the right call, however.

"To be honest, I think we did absolutely the right thing," said Wolff. "As a leading car it's always difficult to take the decision.

"These things can happen – I stand absolutely behind the decision to stay out – and that's why I'm fine."

Valtteri Bottas recorded the fastest time of second practice at the Hungarian Grand Prix, 0.027s ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas' fastest lap of 1:17.012 helped Mercedes lead the way on their soft-tyre simulations, while championship leader Max Verstappen had to settle for third after his car struggled in the hot temperatures.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez came in fifth, while the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocan and Fernando Alonso finished fourth and seventh respectively.

Three-time World champion Sebastian Vettel finished eighth, with team-mate Lance Stroll completing the top 10 behind McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Toto Wolff believes assessments of Mercedes' season to date have been overly negative, even as Max Verstappen and Red Bull have control of the title race.

The Silver Arrows had Valtteri Bottas second and defending champion Lewis Hamilton fourth at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hamilton is now five races without a win for only third time over a single season since 2014. Red Bull have won all five of those, with Verstappen triumphing in four.

Damage to his car apparently sustained over a kerb at Turn 10 saw Hamilton fall behind both team-mate Bottas and third-placed McLaren man Lando Norris.

But Wolff, despite describing himself as "a sceptical person, cup is half empty rather than half full", tried to look at the positives.

"First of all, the result looked worse than it was in terms of pace," he told Sky Sports. "We were stuck behind the McLaren.

"In terms of pace, we probably could have been there, maybe not enough to win the race but right there, which is a step forward.

"The damage occurred at Turn 10, over the kerb; I don't think he was particularly running too hard over the kerb – it was just the part that fell away.

"We looked at the loads and they were the same as in the laps before, so we need to find out why that happened.

"So, overall, damage limitation? Maybe. I think we're going to go to Silverstone, blow everybody away, finish one-two, 30 seconds in advance of everyone else."

He added: "We're one DNF away from being right there in the constructors' and in the drivers' championship, so this is far from over."

This was not the result Hamilton – still two victories shy of a landmark 100 – would have wanted to celebrate his new two-year contract.

But Wolff said: "The morale is good, but we have to be working on these feelings actively.

 

"If you come from a run of seven world championship titles, everything looks like a defeat, whatever result you have. I think this is a switch in mindset we have to achieve now.

"Today we finished second and fourth, it's not the end of the world. You see how happy the McLaren guys are about their position [P3] and I think we have to just recognise this is a tough, tough championship.

"This is the Formula One world championship and you can't expect every year to cruise away in the sunset.

"We will make everything that's needed to not make Red Bull do exactly that."

Perhaps Hamilton himself could use a more optimistic outlook, rueing "a lot of damage" despite insisting he "wasn't going over the kerb any more than anyone else".

"There were a lot of points lost today," Hamilton said, adding: "I would have been second. I was in second when all of a sudden it obviously broke.

"It would have been an easy second generally, but obviously not able to catch up with the guys ahead."

A home race for the seven-time champion at Silverstone is up next, but Hamilton said: "We're miles away from [Red Bull], so we've got a lot of work to do.

"We need all hands on deck, which I know there already are. They brought a lot of upgrades, clearly, over these last few races, and we haven't brought any.

"We've got to find as much performance as possible, otherwise this will be the result most often."

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."

Toto Wolff insisted Mercedes had to pit Valtteri Bottas first at the French Grand Prix and allow Red Bull to set up Max Verstappen for a stunning undercut.

After an early Verstappen error, the championship leader was running in third, between two Silver Arrows.

Lewis Hamilton led, with Bottas back in third, but Mercedes team principal Wolff explained the Finn had issues with his tyres that meant he had to head for the pit lane.

That call prompted Verstappen to pit next and he enjoyed an out lap described by Wolff as "phenomenal" while Hamilton followed him in and narrowly lost the lead.

Red Bull took a further risk by bringing Verstappen in a second time to attack the Mercedes pair on fresh medium tyres, but the first stop proved pivotal, accommodating that bold two-stop strategy.

Verstappen won the race, with runner-up Hamilton a fraction under three seconds behind him.

Wolff pondered if Mercedes had "misjudged" the undercut and added it was "something to improve".

However, he told Sky Sports: "We knew we were going to trigger the stops too early, but we had no choice."

Wolff said: "It went back and forward. We were in the lead because Max made the mistake, so that was a bit inherited.

"Then our pace was good, probably a little bit of a margin even. But then we had just about three seconds gap for the undercut, to protect the undercut, but it wasn't enough.

"We were lacking a second. Somewhere we lost it."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner added: "I think it's been a great race. You can see how close it is.

"It's been a great win for us today, but you've only got to look how tight it is between the two teams. It's going to be nip and tuck all the way through this championship, but we're going to be very happy leaving here.

"I think I'm visibly ageing with each grand prix, but we'll give Toto a few grey hairs by the end of the year as well."

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would like to see team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner don boxing gloves to settle their differences.

Hamilton and Verstappen are engaged in a title tussle in Formula One but have so far maintained pleasantries off the track in front of the media.

The same cannot be said for Mercedes chief Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Horner.

When Horner this week suggested his opposite number "keep [his] mouth shut" as the Silver Arrows struggled in practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Wolff fired back that the Red Bull boss was "a bit of a windbag who wants to be on camera".

For Hamilton, who qualified in second, and Verstappen, in third, the row was the source of some amusement in Baku on Saturday.

"We should get them in a ring," Hamilton offered.

Verstappen added: "Yeah, but I think the weight division is a bit of a problem. In the height, the reach...

"I mean I'm all for a ring anyway, even in Formula One – instead of penalties!"

Pressed for further comment, Verstappen said: "It's Formula One. There are a lot of stakes involved so everyone wants to win, everyone is competitive.

"I guess it's just a natural thing and it's good for people to read, right? A bit of fire behind it."

Hamilton said: "Naturally, they're the two top leaders of the teams and they've both contributed hugely to the success of both teams.

"[They are] great leaders and of course they're head to head because we are head to head in this tight battle. We generally just like to do our talking on the track, so we're just keeping our heads down."

Hamilton did just that in qualifying, although he had not anticipated such a competitive display.

The defending champion was seventh in FP1, 11th in FP2 and "still pretty much a disaster" in third in FP3.

However, Hamilton was only denied a 101st career pole by Charles Leclerc, who again profited from a late red flag – this time caused by an incident involving team-mate Carlos Sainz, having himself crashed last time out.

"Honestly, it's one of the greatest feelings for us, for the difficult experience we've gone through and being out of the top 10 all weekend and really struggling to understand and extract performance from our car," Hamilton said.

"It feels fantastic. Congratulations to Charles, who did a fantastic job given the difficult circumstances out there.

"Yeah, it's just a bit overwhelming, really happy to be up here, grateful to have got the lap in, and it puts us in for a much different race than we anticipated after yesterday."

Verstappen was less impressed by how qualifying panned out, bemoaning "all this s*** all the time happening" when the session was cut short.

With Red Bull concurrently leading both the drivers' championship and the constructors' championship for the first time since 2013, Verstappen is looking for the first back-to-back wins of his career.

Not since the Hybrid Era began in 2014 have his team had two victories in a row.

Meanwhile, Lando Norris, a distant third in the standings, will start from P9 due to a three-place grid penalty.

Norris, who has earned points at a career-best 10 consecutive races, qualified in sixth but was deemed to have continued on the track under one of the session's record-equalling four red flags.

Romain Grosjean will return to the cockpit of a Formula One car for the first time since his horrific accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix when he takes part in testing for Mercedes next month.

Grosjean, 35, remarkably walked away from a shocking crash in November last year when his Haas car was split in two and caught fire after smashing through barriers on the opening lap of the race.

The Frenchman spent another 27 seconds in the vehicle after the crash and was left with severe burns to his hands, though that was the extent of his injuries.

It proved to be his final race, as he missed the final two events of the season and his departure from Haas had already been confirmed.

Since leaving, Grosjean has started competing in the IndyCar series, however he will be back momentarily in F1 for the French Grand Prix at the end of June, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff inviting Grosjean to take part in a specially arranged testing session, plus pre-race demo laps.

A Mercedes statement read: "In an emotional return to Formula One, Romain Grosjean will turn the wheel of an F1 car for the first time since his dramatic accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, when he drives Lewis Hamilton's world championship-winning W10 at the Circuit Paul Ricard next month.

"In the aftermath of his accident, Toto Wolff made a commitment to Romain that his crash would not be his final act in F1.

"True to his word, Toto invited Romain to the Mercedes F1 base in Brackley on March 30 to undergo a seat fit and spend time on the team's simulator in preparation for a specially organised test at the Frenchman's home circuit on June 29 – seven months to the day since his accident.

"He will also take part in a series of demo laps ahead of the French Grand Prix on Sunday 27 June."

Grosjean thanked Mercedes and Wolff for the opportunity to drive at his home track.

"I am so excited to jump back in an F1 car! It will be a special opportunity for me and to drive a world championship-winning Mercedes will be a unique experience," he said.

"I'm very grateful to Mercedes F1 and to Toto for the opportunity. The first I heard about the chance to drive a Mercedes was in my hospital bed in Bahrain when Toto was speaking to the media and made the invitation. Reading that news cheered me up a lot!

"F1 didn't get the chance to race in France during 2020 because of COVID so driving a Mercedes at the French Grand Prix in 2021 and then completing a test at the Circuit Paul Ricard, my home track, will be so special. I can't wait for the day to arrive."

Lewis Hamilton also paid tribute to Grosjean but could not resist a quip about letting him behind the wheel of his car.

"I'm really happy to see Romain back in an F1 car after his accident last year," the seven-time champion added. "When it happened, we were all praying for him and seeing him walk away from it and recover so well was a massive relief.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him again in France and welcoming him to the team for the weekend – although he better look after my W10!"

This was not how the start of the season was supposed to pan out for Red Bull, who had the fastest car in Formula One testing.

Superstar Max Verstappen has finished second and first over the opening two weeks, yet he still trails Lewis Hamilton by a point. Mercedes are also on top again in the constructors' championship, seven points clear even after Valtteri Bottas crashed out of the epic Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

"To come away leading both championships almost felt like a get out of jail free card, because our rivals didn't maximise the opportunity we gave them," Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff said.

Verstappen is certainly in a title race, but seven-time champion Hamilton will be the favourite as long as he has the lead.

There is pressure on Red Bull to change that this week when the season continues with the Portuguese Grand Prix.

LAST TIME OUT

It would perhaps be easier to start with what did not happen at Imola, such was the drama.

Verstappen was the victor, while Hamilton came in second, but that does not even start to tell the full story, with incident right from the outset in the pouring rain.

The Mercedes driver started from pole but was trailing and damaged by Turn One, pushed wide by a rapid Verstappen dash.

Worse was to come for Hamilton as he careered off into a gravel trap midway through the race and attempted to get his sparking Silver Arrow back to the pit lane as Verstappen streaked clear.

But an unexpected intervention gave Hamilton a reprieve, with a crash – not the only one – between Bottas and George Russell prompting a suspension of the race.

That meant Verstappen had to restore his advantage after a nervy restart, while Hamilton resumed from ninth and weaved through the field to finish a distant second, retaining his season lead with a late fastest lap.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT PORTIMAO

Now that Hamilton has proven the worth of the W12 car – previously dismissed by Bottas as "undriveable" – Mercedes might expect a more straightforward weekend.

Hamilton won at the Algarve International Circuit last year, after all.

But the tricky circuit, dubbed 'the rollercoaster', could encourage another eventful outing, particularly with Verstappen keen to ensure he has not missed his chance to pull clear over the past two grands prix.

The battle below the top two teams is similarly intriguing, with McLaren's Lando Norris as high as third in the standings after following up a fourth place in the opener by taking third last time out. Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, meanwhile, is fourth in the standings.

Neither McLaren nor the Scuderia had the pace to stick with Hamilton when his crash gave them a rare opportunity to compete with the Mercedes superstar, but those two teams will be determined to prove they are the best of the rest.

Sebastian Vettel's challenge right now is simply to get a point on the board after coming 15th in back-to-back races.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Reaching the Max – Having either won (twice) or secured pole position (twice) in each of the past three races, Verstappen is enjoying the best run of his career.

Hundred up for Ham – Hamilton's pole position at Imola was his 99th in F1, meaning he could this week become the first driver to reach a century. This is the same circuit where the Briton passed Michael Schumacher's record for race wins last season.

Keep your friends close – While challenging Hamilton, Verstappen also finally has competition again from within his own garage. Sergio Perez qualified in second last time out, the first time Verstappen had been beaten in qualifying by a team-mate in 19 races.

Yet so far – Leclerc is fourth in the standings and all too often fourth on race day. The Ferrari man has gone 15 races without a podium but has finished fourth on four occasions during that span.

Fail to Finnish – Bottas will hope to avoid a career first following his retirement last time out. In his 158-race career, he has never failed to place at consecutive grands prix.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 44
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 43
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 27
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 20
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 16

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 60
2. Red Bull – 53
3. McLaren – 41
4. Ferrari – 34
5. Aston Martin – 7

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.

Lewis Hamilton says his decision to only sign a one-year contract with Mercedes should not cause concern as he prioritises his drive for more diversity in Formula One.

It took until February before seven-time world champion Hamilton and Mercedes finally announced they had come to terms on a new contract.

The agreement was only for 2021, the last season before sweeping regulation changes come into the sport.

Hamilton, 36, insists there should be no doubts over his commitment.

The Briton also spoke of his passion to fight for change and equality in F1 and wider society.

That will serve as his main focus in a year where he could surpass Michael Schumacher outright with an eighth title.

"I'm kind of in a fortunate position where I've achieved most of the stuff I wanted to achieve up until this point, so there's no real need necessarily to plan too far ahead in the future," Hamilton said at the launch of Mercedes' new W12 car.

"I'm fully invested in this season and delivering. I still love what I do.

"We're living through an unusual period of time in life and I just wanted one year. Then we can talk about if we do more, and keep adding it [by] one if we have to.

"I chose to have a one-year deal, so I can see where we are at. It doesn't mean I'm not committed.

"What I'm really focused on - there was a lot of discussion around the diversity issue, what is important is that we are delivering."

Hamilton added: "I'm really proud of my team, I'm already seeing steps to see that progress. That's my driving force to make sure we continue to push for accountability.

"The main priority for 2021 - in the past it was about just winning championships. But now it's really pushing for making real change.

"Last year there was discussion about equality and inclusion and there was a lot of talk this year about pushing for diversity and really making sure that action is taken.

"That's at the core of the drive for me, but of course we exist to win. That is what all these guys and girls here are working towards, so that's my goal to deliver it for them."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff echoed the comments of Hamilton and is not concerned about the short deal.

Wolff said: "No doubt about his commitment. First of all, he enjoys racing a lot. We enjoy working with each other and we discussed that a lot.

"But he’s absolutely right. The times change, new priorities for all of us in terms of the way we live, our health, he is very passionate about his initiatives against racism and inequality.

"Then we have this massive regulatory change in 2022 that is going to reshape what Formula One will be.

"I don't think this will play a role, but I think it's fair for a driver who has won seven championships to have the flexibility to decide what he wants to do in future.

"We have agreed that we want to pick up the discussions much earlier this year to avoid a situation like we had in 2020, to run out of time and be in the uncomfortable position that we have no time left before the beginning of the season."

The 2021 season is scheduled to get under way with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

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