John Watson reckons seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton would prefer to keep Valtteri Bottas as his team-mate at Mercedes for the 2022 season, rather than being joined by youngster George Russell.
Bottas initially paired up with Hamilton in 2017, supporting the Briton’s latest title-winning campaigns to extend his stay on one-year contracts, but Mercedes protege Russell, 23, has been heavily linked to his seat for 2022.
Russell starred during his last-minute call-up to replace the unwell Hamilton at Mercedes for last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix, narrowly missing out on pole position and almost winning first time out prior to pit-stop trouble, and he’s continued to impress in Williams’ midfield machinery in 2021.
Watson, who won five Grands Prix across his career in the 1970s and 1980s, is keen to see former GP3 and Formula 2 champion Russell in a more competitive car, but thinks Mercedes will continue to play it safe with Bottas.
“My thoughts are that Lewis would like to keep Bottas, because he is what I would call a compliant teammate,” Watson told RacingNews365.com in an exclusive interview.
“What he doesn't want is [to be paired with] someone like George, who did a stunning job last year in Bahrain.
“Lewis is in a position of great authority and power within the Mercedes team, within the Mercedes family.
“There is a very good reason behind why Lewis was prepared to have Bottas. If you bring in a young lion like George, who I think is outstanding… I've seen over the years where you bring in two drivers who then end up fighting each other in the championship, you open the door to another team.
“I think that, at the end of the day, Mercedes will keep Bottas, simply because it's a known commodity.”
If Mercedes do give Russell the nod over Bottas, it would be with the understanding that he needs to play the team game until Hamilton retires, according to Watson.
“I'd love to see George in a Mercedes,” added Watson, who finished third in the 1982 championship with McLaren.
“But if that was going to be the case, George would have to accept that he will have to play second fiddle to Lewis, in any time they were together.”