It is a very important decision for the two drivers involved, as it will define the nature of their F1 career – and their success – in the years to come.
But it is also a decision whose ramifications are not limited to the men who will be in the cockpit, as it will also affect other teams on the grid.
On the one hand, there are teams like Alfa Romeo that see it as an opportunity for someone with a talent to win races like Bottas to suddenly be on the market as a free agent.
But the situation could also be a headache for Williams if he finds himself with the loss of his star Russell just at the moment when new F1 regulations offer him the opportunity to take a step forward in his performance for 2022.
If Russell is destined to race for Mercedes, then finding someone as fast as the Brit, and who can take on the role, certainly doesn’t sound so easy for a team that has finished last in the Constructors’ championship for the past three seasons.
Williams can’t offer many competitive guarantees right now because, despite all the impressive Saturdays the team has put together with Russell this year, they still haven’t achieved the elusive championship point they so crave.
But rather than risk being left without any solid driving options if Russell is hired by Mercedes, the state of the F1 driver market means that his situation is not too bad, and that he has a plethora of options, both young and old. experienced.
The first decision Williams will have to make will be whether or not to keep Russell’s teammate Nicholas Latifi, whose original two-year contract with the team ends this season.
Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW43B
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Although Latifi has yet to score any points for Williams, the valuable sponsorship from his Canadian partners has value at a time when F1 costs remain very high.
Once the decision is made with Latifi, the next most obvious point of interest for Williams will be whether his engines partner Mercedes wants to replace Russell with another of his junior drivers.
There is increasing talk that Mercedes is considering changing the Formula E series leader, Nyck de Vries, from his official team in the electric championship to a seat with Williams.
De Vries, as a former F2 champion, is already a reserve driver for Mercedes in F1, and the German manufacturer might think the 26-year-old still has potential for a future at the grand prix.
Speaking at the Formula E event in London last weekend, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was clear that both de Vries and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne deserved opportunities in F1.
“Stoffel found himself in a situation with McLaren that was difficult to handle in his day,” he said. “They both deserve to be in Formula 1 and I hope they can find their way back.”
“I am very happy to have them as our drivers in Formula E, I could not wish for anyone else. But I would never stand in the way of any driver if I had the chance to drive in Formula 1.”
Williams is not totally dependent on Mercedes filling Russell’s vacancy, as there are so many other possibilities out there.
The team could take a look at their own young driver Dan Ticktum, who has been a member of the Williams Racing Academy since late 2019.
The Brit is widely regarded for his natural talent and strong personality, which have made him headlines for both the right and wrong reasons throughout his career.
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
However, having won races in F2 for the past two seasons, and currently being fourth overall, Williams may think he deserves to be relieved.
Equally, there are plenty of seasoned options that would help give Williams the strong foundation necessary to move forward in the face of the new rules.
Former Williams driver, Nico Hulkenberg, has not fully given up on a future in F1 after putting in some impressive performances for Racing Point as a substitute in 2020.
The German is a reserve for Aston Martin and Mercedes this season, so he has kept abreast of the latest developments from the F1 teams.
On the other hand, the Alpine reserve, Daniil Kvyat, he still feels he has a lot to offer F1 after losing his seat at AlphaTauri late last year.
The Russian enjoyed a good season finale in 2020 and his previous experiences at Red Bull and Ferrari would be invaluable to a rebuilding Williams team.
For the British, the options are wide and varied, but there is no point in worrying about them until Mercedes has announced its big decision in the coming weeks.