As the uncertainty over Lewis Hamilton's future rumbles on, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has delivered a warning to the highly-rated British youngster George Russell.
Hamilton, 36, is in the highly unusual situation of being out of contract after his £40million-a-season Mercedes deal expired on December 31.
Mercedes are confident Hamilton will extend his stay with the sport's all-conquering team – but the length of his new contract is under scrutiny, with reports the record-breaking Briton has been offered only a one-year deal.
Russell, who impressed as Hamilton's deputy at last season's Sakhir Grand Prix, has long been linked with a move to Mercedes once his three-year loan spell with Williams expires at the end of this season.
And while Wolff is a fan of the Mercedes-affiliated youngster, he says Russell, 22, still has plenty to learn.
Speaking to Autosport, Wolff said: "Winning Formula 1 championships is about making the least amount of mistakes. And that only comes with routine and experience.
"Mercedes expects these kind of sustainable performance levels. And that's why you need to give young drivers time.
"Because as exuberant as they may be perceived after the performance that we've seen [at the Sakhir GP] from George, at the same time, young drivers will be criticised, and criticised quickly, when they make mistakes in such a high pressure environment like a top team.
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"That's why making experiences like in Imola, and learning from that, is very important to form a driver that can perform at a sustainable high level."
Indeed, Mercedes have high hopes for Russell after he impressed when deputising for Hamilton last season.
Wolff added: "We believed in George because there's not many drivers out there that have won junior championships as rookies, especially not in the very competitive GP3 and F2 championships.
"For us, [using him as replacement for Hamilton] was a possibility to confirm what we were thinking about George. It was unfortunate that this opportunity came with Lewis having been out.
"I would have wished it would have happened in a different way, but it gave us a set of data points to look at. And in a way it affirmed how we judged him.
"It was also an advantage for him and Williams. He was going to go back to his team with a lot of learning, with more understanding. And this is why I think for him personally and for Williams, it was advantageous."
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