George Russell hopes Williams can make a flying start to the Formula 1® season in Bahrain - but he believes Mercedes are the only team who will be sure they are race-ready.
British driver Russell caught the eye when he replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for one race last year, after the world champion tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Sakhir Grand Prix.
He went close to winning that race until a pit-stop error and a puncture late on cost him a probable victory, and he then returned to his regular drive at Williams.
Mercedes have assured Russell, who is part of their junior driver programme, that he can have a racing future with them if his development continues as expected.
That could come as soon as next year, but for now Russell's focus is on delivering for Williams.
The team has been in transition following the takeover by Dorilton Capital, and German motorsport veteran Jost Capito was appointed chief executive officer during the close season.
Russell believes Williams, who failed to score a point last season, should be better placed in 2021 to at least improve on that disappointing outcome.
"We want, the bare minimum, to be fighting with the Haas and the Alfas, as we did last year, and closing the gap to that midfield," Williams said.
"We made nine out of 17 Q2 appearances and that is definitely a thrill. That's got to be almost an aim every weekend for myself and team."
The season begins in Bahrain on March 28, and by then there should be evidence of which teams have made progress since 2020, with testing taking place, also in Bahrain, on the March 12-14 long weekend.
Russell admits it is a waiting game to see how rivals have advanced, or regressed.
"Fingers crossed that they go backwards and we go forwards," he said, in an Instagram chat on Formula 1®'s official page.
"Ultimately, we may go to Bahrain and see every other team has progressed more than us.
"We may go there and see we've made great progress. Until we get to Bahrain not a single team, probably bar Mercedes, can tell you how they're going to perform."
Russell, 23, has been tipped for a big future in the sport. He also believes Williams, a great name from the history of Formula 1®, can begin a journey back to the top of the sport.
"The arrival of Jost is massive for the team, really exciting," he said. "The future for Williams and everybody here at Grove [the team's headquarters] is really great.
"Unfortunately, things don't change in a matter of moments in Formula 1®, but the building blocks are really getting set in stone.
"Jost has loads of experience, he's a great character, and I think he's going to bring a lot of motivation to the team."
Russell was speaking on the day F1 chiefs confirmed the Portuguese Grand Prix on the new season's calendar, with the race inked in for May 2.
It will be the second round of 23 in the championship, with Portugal having returned to the Formula 1® rota last year for the first time since 1996.