Mercedes F1

"Mercedes wants Bottas" Toto shows his hand

With the Red Bull drivers secured and both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso apparently off-limits, Mercedes have made their big play, and it's the underrated Finn Valtteri Bottas that has been given the kiss of death.

Valtteri claimed the only podium result for Williams this season, and although it was thought interest from the top teams had wained after Ferrari elected to retain Kimi Raikkonen rather than bring Valtteri into their stable, it seems that the desperate position Mercedes find themselves in after the shock retirement of reigning world champion Nico Rosberg could be just the lifeline his career needed.

Andrew Benson from the Big British Castle writes:

Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff has zeroed in on Bottas as his favoured option as a replacement for Rosberg, who retired five days after winning his first world title last month despite having two further years on his Mercedes contract.
Wolff has approached Williams with a proposal that he gives them a major reduction in their engine bill - said to be in the region of €10m euros (£8.4m); more than half the total fee - in return for releasing Bottas.
Williams also have the option to run Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein in Bottas' place.
Wolff, who is part of Bottas' management team, sees the 27-year-old as a close like-for-like replacement for Rosberg - quick, a reliable and consistent points scorer, and relatively easy to manage alongside the more mercurial Hamilton.

Throw into the mix the potential of Paddy Lowe switching from Mercedes to Williams and you can see how these negotiations could get complicated very quickly, absolutely not what Mercedes need right now. 

The biggest issue with poaching Bottas away from Williams is that they will be left without anything like a senior driver. Even bringing in former Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr doesn't come close to rebalance the loss of Massa and Bottas (19 seasons combined F1 experience). 

Other potential options for the Mercedes seat included junior driver Pascal Wehrlein, and even retired former world champion Jenson Button. Bottas however was always the most likely first choice, with the overlooked Carlos Sainz a likely back-up if a deal can't be agreed upon.

Toro Rosso have agreed that "Chilli" Sainz would be released from his contract if Mercedes came knocking on their door, although without an engine deal between the teams it'll require ponying up for the full amount. 

Rosberg retires from F1: "I have climbed my mountain"

Only five days after winning the 2016 drivers' championship, Nico Rosberg has announced that he is retiring from Formula One.

Nico's full statement on his retirement:

“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.
“This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between every race, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting our championship first. 
“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening. After reflecting for a day, the first people I told were Vivian and Georg (Nolte, from Nico’s management team), followed by Toto.
“The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a tough situation. But Toto understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced and that reassured me. My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people, the Silver Arrows.
“Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. There is time to savour the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me…”

From his own upbringing, Nico knows first hand what it's like for a father to be absent due to racing commitments. As his own family enters this new chapter he clearly feels that missing out on the first years of his daughter's life just to go through another traumatic year for both drivers and management at Mercedes. He must know that he has but together the best season of his life, even reliability favoured him and the result still went down to the final lap and a mistake that cost him even two seconds would have lost him the title.

At only 31, there's no question Rosberg could continue to race at the highest level for a long time still if he chose to. Clearly other options exist, if the environment became too toxic he could always switch to more emotionally supportive team for example.

As options go, this is a bit of a crap shoot - if you're not doing every thing you can to give yourself the best chance of winning (either races or championships) then you probably have no business driving in Formula One.

So that leaves retirement, although I think there's a very good chance we'll still see Rosberg racing in another class of one form or another.

Mercedes management will now be hustling to fill the seat vacated by Nico's retirement, I'm sure action plans have already been formulated and executed. They have a number of young drivers that now have F1 experience, including Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. The frenchman has already been announced as driving at Force India but could well be promoted, while Wehrlein's future remains unclear he was given a testing opportunity this year as a contingency against Hamilton who threatening to walk out on the team after the Spanish GP.

Promoting a junior driver is a risky move, especially with new regulations that could see Red Bull or Ferrari close the gap on Mercedes. Securing the constructors' championship will be front of mind when they make their selection, and whether drivers with at most one year of experience in the sport can work with Hamilton and play rear-gunner by fending off the likes of Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen remains to be seen.

Alternatively they could put up the big bucks and add another big name to their stable. The names Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen would have to be high on their wishlist, while Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have had mediocre years as their teams build and could be looking to move to a garage further up the pitlane. Whether Seb of Fernando want Lewis for a bunkmate is another question. 

Poaching a more experienced and proven driver in the mould of Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez or even Carlos Sainz would solve this problem, but while such a move might be low-risk, it's also low reward. Mercedes are far more likely to either turn up the heat by buying-out someone's existing contract or invest in the next big thing.

Least likely, in my humble opinion, is the prospect of Jenson Button reversing his decision to retire and rejoining his old teammate. Although Button technically had the edge on Lewis from a points perspective during their time together, even the lure of driving a championship front-running car is probably not enough to rekindle his motivation.

Interestingly Rosberg admitted that he formulated the plan to retire if he won the title even before the season was finished. Unfortunately Formula One's image has now been tarnished by having the reigning world champion decide that he has more important things to focus on than continue in the sport.

It's sad also that fans won't get the chance to farewell Rosberg properly at race events, they way fellow drivers Jenson Button and Felipe Massa did.

Wolff, again, warns his drivers to behave or be replaced

On the eve of receiving their trophies for claiming the constructors' and drivers' titles, Mercedes "Big Cheese" Toto Wolff has repeated his claim that the drivers need to find a way to compete that does not impede the progress and positivity within the team.

"If it were to become detrimental to the team that would mean that we would not maintain the long-term set-up in the team with the drivers," he said.

"It's very important to keep the spirit within the team, and the competition between Nico and Lewis has been very fierce, very competitive at times... The guy in the other car cannot be your friend, but we need to be careful that it doesn't spill over on both sides of the garage.

"We've seen teams in the past where there is a competition being created that is not good for the dynamics within the team."

It is a bit of a shame that even 1 - 2 finishes are not celebrated within the team, if not the media. Still, I bet they are very worried - especially three time World Champion Lewis "He-Da-Man" Hamilton.

Source: Grand Prix Times