Toto Wolff has hailed Valtteri Bottas as a "very important pillar" for Mercedes as the team deliberates over its second seat for 2022.
Bottas has helped Mercedes to four constructors' titles since he joined in 2017 but sees his future hanging in the balance with the threat of George Russell being promoted from Williams in 2022.
Bottas lies fourth in this season's driver standings behind McLaren's Lando Norris and when asked if it was fair to suggest the Finn has had his opportunity with the team, Mercedes team principal Wolff told GPFans Global: "I think that's too harsh.
"He has also had a lot of bad luck when I think about Monaco where he should have finished second on the road, and we let him down. It's very harsh.
"And if your team-mate is a seven-time world champion, a 100-grand prix winner, obviously, that will be difficult.
"He is a great team player, he has won multiple grand prix, has been on call all the time, 53 podium appearances, and that is a solid, very important pillar for us as a team that needs to be considered."
Put to Wolff that there was an argument that there is a chance to give Russell a two-year learning course with Hamilton, the Austrian replied: "Yes, there is the strategy to vote, to go with jeunesse [youth], and see how George performs next to clearly the greatest race driver of all time, and whether he can take over the baton one day when Lewis decides to call it a day."