• Toto Wolff says that a deal with Lewis Hamilton could be done before pre-season testing gets underway.
• Hamilton and Mercedes are at odds over the contract's duration.
• George Russell could replace Hamilton at the team at some point.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
Toto Wolff has admitted that a new three-year contract is unlikely for Lewis Hamilton.
With the new season looming, it is now highly conspicuous that seven time world championship Hamilton is yet to sign a new deal for 2021.
"We're not far away," Mercedes team boss Wolff told the German broadcasters RTL and n-tv.
When asked what 'not far away' really means, he answered: "Soon is a flexible term. Soon."
Earlier, he had said the final deadline was pre-season testing in Bahrain, set to take place in March just before the first race of the season at the same Sakhir circuit.
He said: "We know the deadline is the day we travel to Bahrain, but by then we will have everything done."
However, he played down the likelihood that Hamilton or Mercedes will agree to a full three-year term.
The Austrian added: "I don't think so. We are discussing what the correct duration is so we have to keep our eyes open. Lewis is incredibly important, not only for our team but also the Mercedes brand. It's also a friendship. But the landscape is currently changing."
He said the new rules for 2022 and the incoming budget cap are both "factors that naturally play a role in our discussions. We have a huge regulatory change next year, and the cost cap which of course as a big team affects us. And then it goes into the details. But we don't want to be put under pressure either. It has to be a sensible agreement, and we are not far from that."
He denied that George Russell is being used as a bargaining chip in his talks with Hamilton.
Wolff added: "It is important to emphasise that. We have too strong a relationship for that. It's just about making the best decision for Lewis and for the team. George Russell will play a role in our future lineup. He just has to have a little trust and patience. Today we are concentrating on our drivers Valtteri and Lewis, and for the future we will see."