Former Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer and motorsport commentator Jack Nicholls have suggested that Mercedes ought to have signed Lando Norris as Valtteri Bottas’ successor, not George Russell.
Bottas departed the Constructors’ Champions at the end of the 2021 season having helped guide them to their eighth consecutive success, and moved to Alfa Romeo.
The Finn won 10 races during his time with the Silver Arrows and was replaced by Russell, who claimed his maiden podium in 2021.
The 23-year-old drove for Mercedes at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, after Sir Lewis Hamilton contracted COVID-19.
He looked strong throughout the weekend and was leading the race before a botched pit stop followed by a late puncture saw him finish ninth.
Lando Norris, meanwhile, had a mightily impressive 2021 season; he beat experienced team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by 45 points, and scored four podiums on his way to a sixth-placed championship finish.
Nicholls said that, while Russell is an able replacement, he would have chosen the McLaren driver.
“If I’m Mercedes…and I have a free choice in that second seat alongside Hamilton, I think I’m picking Norris over Russell after this year,” Nicholls said on the F1: Chequered Flag Podcast.
Palmer, who competed in 84 races for Renault in Formula 1, agreed with Nicholls.
“I’m going with Jack on it, I’m going with Lando. The way that he held off Lewis Hamilton at the end of that Sochi race until the strategy and the tyre choice got away from him, was unbelievable,” he explained.
While the win got away from Norris in Russia, Palmer was impressed at how the young Briton handled the pressure during the race.
“For a guy that has never won a race, to have a seven-time World Champion breathing down his neck in a Mercedes, then it starts raining, and he’s still off the road a couple of times, scrabbling around, but keeping Hamilton, we all know how good he is in the wet, behind him, it was really legendary stuff I think from Norris.”
The 30-year-old suggested that Norris should be regarded as one of the best drivers on the current F1 grid, alongside Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“I wonder if Lando this year has put himself in the top bracket? Alongside Lewis and Max potentially,” he said.
Palmer went on to compare Norris to Ricciardo, with the 22-year-old out-qualifying and out-racing his vastly more experienced McLaren partner in the Aussie’s first year with the team, having signed from Renault.
“When you look at the job he has done against Daniel Ricciardo. Even in the last races Norris was quite a way ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, he just had really bad luck on the closing stages, otherwise he would have had fifth in the championship.”
Considering Ricciardo’s pedigree – having won seven races for Red Bull – Palmer is convinced that Norris deserves a top seat in the pinnacle of motorsport.
“And this is Daniel Ricciardo, seven-time winner now an eight-time winner, this is a guy that everyone thought could be a champion in the top car, but Lando has done such a great job.”
Russell is set to partner Hamilton for the 2022 season, but rumours have been sparked that the latter may retire following the controversial end to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in which Verstappen beat him to the championship on the very last lap.
Should he remain in F1, it has been pondered how Russell will fare against the seven-time world champion, and whether he will be able push his team-mate a little more than his predecessor Bottas managed.
Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has gone on the record to say that this could be of benefit to his team.