Bottas is confirmed as Lewis’s Merc team-mate
Lewis adds his seal of approval to a deal to move “nice guy” Valtteri Bottas from Williams to the Mercedes hot seat for 2017
Valtteri Bottas will replace Nico Rosberg as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate at Mercedes this year, as part of a cascade of deals that nally brought the 2017 driver market to a conclusion.
The 27-year-old Finnish racer had been at the top of Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff’s wish list from the moment Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport, last December. But it took Wolff until mid-January to nally conclude a deal with Williams to release Bottas.
Separately, Wolff secured Mercedes protégé Pascal Wehrlein another season of gaining experience in F1, with Sauber. Wolff felt Wehrlein had yet to prove himself and was not ready for a top-line drive.
Bottas has proven his consistency at Williams. But there are question marks over his absolute pace – his superiority over Felipe Massa in three seasons as his team-mate was nowhere near as marked as Fernando Alonso’s when Alonso and Massa were partners at Ferrari from 2010-13.
Hamilton gave his blessing to Bottas becoming his team-mate during a meeting at Wolff’s house before Christmas, when they also discussed the fall-out from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Hamilton had said in post-season interviews that he felt “disrespected” by team orders to speed up while trying to back Rosberg into rivals in a vain attempt to secure the title. According to Wolff: “Lewis said he thought Valtteri was a nice guy; one of the guys he actually got along with well in Formula 1 and he felt he was a good option.”
Bottas, whose contract with Williams had one more year to run, has signed for a single season at Mercedes, although there are options to extend. Wolff wanted room to manoeuvre at the end of this season, when the contracts of Alonso at McLaren and Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari come up for renewal. Wolff cannot ignore drivers of their calibre, but has reservations about how they would gel with Hamilton, since all three have very self-focused approaches to team work.
Mercedes’ deal with Williams included a guarantee that they would let their former technical boss Paddy Lowe join immediately if Williams could strike a deal with him (see p22).
Massa serves as an effective stopgap for Williams, who needed an experienced and proven team leader to act as a benchmark for their other driver, 18-year-old Canadian rookie Lance Stroll, who brings sponsorship to the team worth at least $30m. They also needed a driver over 25 to fulfil the marketing requirements of their title sponsor, the drinks giant Martini.
Wolff has helped Pascal Wehrlein (left) find a seat at Sauber, while Bottas’s move to Mercedes lets Massa stay on at Williams