Bottas to replace Rosberg at Mercedes
Williams drive a hard bargain following protracted negotiations with Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas will take Nico Rosberg’s recently vacated Mercedes seat alongside Lewis Hamilton, following Rosberg’s decision to retire after winning last year’s world title. Bottas, 27, was Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff’s only serious candidate, and the deal was due to be finalised just after this issue of F1 Racing went to press.
So keen was Wolff to secure Bottas that Williams were able to push for a much better deal before releasing him from his contract. They will keep on Felipe Massa, who was due to retire from the sport, in place of Bottas.
During the extended contractual negotiations over the winter break, Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams said: “I’m delighted to see that a team like Mercedes list Valtteri as a potential replacement for Nico. We have always known Valtteri is one of the sport’s key talents and are proud that the championship leaders recognise this.
“However, Williams has its own ambitions and we must always ensure we give our team the best opportunity to move forward. Any changes would only be made if Williams remain in a strong position to compete and develop in 2017.
“If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would do this only if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as someone like Felipe Massa, for example. Whatever we decide, it must be in the best interests of this team.”
Williams have chosen to keep on Massa as a replacement for Bottas because they need a driver over the age of 25 to satisfy the promotional requirements of title sponsor Martini, who cannot use two drivers under that age to promote their product.
Williams have already signed 18-year-old Canadian rookie Lance Stroll as one of their drivers in 2017, and this means Williams cannot use Pascal Wehrlein, who Wolff had made clear was available should they want him, although he was not part of the original deal offered.
Massa had announced his retirement from F1 last season, even though he had always made it clear he wanted to race full-time in 2017. His problem was that he had no other competitive F1 team to go to, and Williams wanted to retain Bottas alongside Stroll – who is bringing a reputed £20m in sponsorship to the team.
Williams and Massa agreed before Christmas the terms of a deal in which he would rejoin the team, assuming a deal between Bottas and Mercedes is also agreed.
Williams rejected Wolff’s initial offer, which was a reduction of $14.2m in the team’s Mercedes engine bill, but Wolff came back to them with an improved proposition.
A final deal was due to have been struck between this issue of F1 Racing going to press