Lewis Hamilton contract: Mercedes pay rise plans ‘shattered’ by George Russell

F1: Hamilton goes for mountain hike amid contract saga

George Russell’s impressive performance at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix may have given Mercedes the upper hand in negotiations with Lewis Hamilton over a new deal, according to former F1 driver Christijan Albers. Russell, who has been racing for Williams since the start of the 2019 campaign, was chosen by Mercedes to replace Hamilton in the penultimate race of last season after the seven-time World Champion tested positive for Covid-19.

The 22-year-old came agonisingly close to taking pole position in qualifying, seeing his effort pipped by temporary team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

The next day, he passed the Finn on the first lap and fought at the front for the majority of the race, but was forced to settle for ninth place through no fault of his own after a pit-stop calamity and a late slow puncture.

Despite the result, Russell received a significant amount of praise for his efforts, and has since been tipped to succeed Hamilton who is still yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes.

The Stevenage-born driver is technically a free agent after his previous deal ran out at the end of last season, with talks reportedly stalling in recent weeks amid concerns over the 95-time race winner’s salary expectations.

Albers, who competed in Formula One between 2005 and 2007, has claimed that Mercedes could turn their attention to Russell if Hamilton refuses to lower his demands.

JUST IN: Lewis Hamilton ‘does not want George Russell at Mercedes’

“Lewis thought that it would all work out, that he would become world champion and he could therefore increase the pressure for a higher salary,” Albers told De Telegraaf’s F1 podcast.

“What he didn’t realise was that he would get Covid-19 and George Russell would get in the car and actually shatter his whole plan, literally and figuratively.

“Just explain to the CEO of Daimler [the parent company of Mercedes], one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, why Lewis Hamilton is so special when he sees George Russell actually pushed in and crushed in a bathtub that he doesn’t fit in at all. We all know he would actually win the race.”

Russell remains a Mercedes junior driver, effectively racing on loan at Williams in order to aid his development.

The Norfolk-born prospect has, as you would expect, remained utterly professional in the face of the speculation surrounding his future.

He has repeatedly stressed that he will remain at Williams in 2021 despite being backed by many to take up a permanent seat with the Silver Arrows this year.

Russell admitted earlier this month that, at times, he has felt the pressure of having to justify the support of Mercedes after signing with the German outfit in early 2017.

“Arguably, when I was a bit younger, maybe my early races in GP3,” Russell told Autocar.

“Probably during 2017, there was a point where my mentality shifted. I told myself: ‘I’m here for a reason and they haven’t picked me up for the sake of it.’

“Mercedes don’t sign 15-20 young drivers every year; at the time, I was one of three. I knew I had to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability.

“I’ve always had the most amount of pressure from myself. I know what I want to achieve, and I only saw being affiliated with Mercedes as a positive.”

The 2021 Formula One season will begin in late March with the Bahrain Grand Prix, following the postponement of the traditional curtain-raiser in Australia amid concerns over the ongoing pandemic.

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