Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is confident Lewis Hamlton will sign a new contract to stay at the team next year but says no decision has been made on who will be his teammate.
Mercedes currently has no drivers under contract for next year after Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas signed one-year deals for 2021.
Hamilton has spoken about his desire to remain in Formula One next year and Wolff believes it is inevitable a new deal will be reached.
“Yes, that is the case,” he told ESPN. “Our relationship between the team and him feels so natural today, through highs and lows.
“I cannot imagine us and him going in separate directions next year.”
Hamilton has already made clear that he does not want a repeat of last year’s contract negotiations, which stretched through the winter and were only concluded in February, a month before the launch of this year’s car.
Wolff blamed the focus on the championship as part of the reason for the delay as well as the inability for the two to negotiate face to face due to travel restrictions and Hamilton testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of the penultimate grand prix of 2020.
“It was a one-year deal because we didn’t get to spend enough time with each other [negotiating further],” Wolff added. “But that is what we are doing now, we are spending time with each other privately and obviously here [at the race track] in a business environment.”
Speculation about the second seat at Mercedes for 2022 has been rife in recent weeks, with several news outlets reporting that the team has already decided to sign Williams driver George Russell over Hamilton’s current teammate Bottas.
Asked directly if a decision had been made on Bottas’ future, Wolff said: “I can 100 percent rule it out. There is no decision that has been made, not even conversations that have been had.”
Wolff said Bottas still has enough time to convince the team to keep him beyond 2021.
“That’s the charm of the situation,” he added. “His future is in his hands — it only comes down to his driving.
“We need a combination of the two best drivers in the team and there is no doubt that we love Valtteri from a personality standpoint, what he adds to the team, and he needs to put in the performances — that is what counts.
“We have always been very transparent with him, and I think that is most important. Be transparent with your drivers. There is no hidden agenda.
“The seat in the Mercedes [for 2022] is between Valtteri and George and it’s a decision that we need to take in the best interest of the team.”
Russell has been a member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme since 2017 and first made contact with Wolff via email in 2014 when he was testing in the GP3 series.
He continues to be managed by Mercedes, but has raced for backmarker team Williams since 2019.
His three-year contract with Williams is due to expire at the end of the year, adding to speculation that he will be promoted to Mercedes.
When asked if Russell’s results in F1 were becoming too good to ignore and that he might end up moving to another team if Mercedes didn’t offer him a contract for 2021, Wolff admitted: “That also plays a role in our thinking.
“If we take a decision for one or another, we need to make sure it was the right decision for the team.
“Both still have great opportunities in their Formula One careers — we are not the only team they can go to and be successful.
“I get on very well with both and I enjoy from a professional and personal standpoint their company, very different characters, and they both deserve to be in a top car.
“But there are only two seats we have.”