Lewis Hamilton will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas next season after Mercedes confirmed the Finn has signed a new one-year extension.
Less than 24 hours after the Silver Arrows announced Hamilton will extend his stay with the team until 2020, it was revealed that Bottas will also be retained for at least more one year.
The 28-year-old Finnish driver, who was signed as a replacement for Nico Rosberg, has quietly impressed in his second full season at Mercedes, occasionally out-performing team-mate Hamilton.
Mercedes considered a move for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, out of contract at the end of the season, but remained faithful to Bottas. They also have an option to keep the Finn on for 2020.
Bottas is fifth in the drivers’ championship, 59 points behind Hamilton, but probably should be higher only for a series of unfortunate incidents to so far derail his campaign.
He suffered a late puncture in Azerbaijan which denied him a certain win. He was then taken off by Sebastian Vettel at the first corner of the French Grand Prix in June, while he retired from second place with technical gremlins in Austria earlier this month.
“This year, with a full winter of preparation, I have been able to make a good step forward – and I believe that there is still more to come,” Bottas said.
“We have not been so lucky in the races this year but the team knows how I am performing, and this is a great sign of confidence in me and my driving.
“I enjoy working with the team, and also being team-mates with Lewis – we have a good relationship, honest and straightforward, and always aiming to get the right results for Mercedes.
“Obviously, my goal is to keep performing at a high level – and to make it a no-brainer for the team when it comes to deciding their plans for 2020 as well.”
I’m very proud to be part of this amazing team. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I will keep giving my 100% for our goals. Hard work always pays off!
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) July 20, 2018
Ricciardo, a two-time winner this season, made no secret of his desire to team up with Hamilton at Mercedes.
But while the Silver Arrows were keen on the Australian, they resisted a move in order to retain a steady ship following years of political in-fighting between Hamilton and Rosberg.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added: “We are very pleased to extend Valtteri’s contract with Mercedes for another season at least – and to be able to confirm an unchanged driver line-up for 2019, ahead of our home race in Hockenheim.
“Valtteri’s performances have been excellent this season and, if not for our mistakes and his misfortune, he could be leading the drivers’ championship at the moment.
“When we took the decision in favour of Valtteri for 2019, it wasn’t just about his undoubted speed and work ethic, but also a question of character. His relationship with the team, including Lewis, is open and trusting, without any politics at all.”
“Those are the ingredients you need when you’re fighting strong rivals in both championships and they mirror the values inside the team. I am very excited to keep Valtteri in the team and look forward to celebrating many more successes with him.”
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, headed directly from their latest capitulation in Austria to the team’s Northamptonshire headquarters on Monday to lead the inquest.
Hamilton was knocked off Formula One’s title summit by Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel following the Briton’s retirement from Sunday’s race.
The defending champion has been given three days off by Mercedes ahead of this week’s British Grand Prix, but he has asked to be kept abreast of any developments after urging his team to issue a “bulletproof” response to their failings this season.
Hamilton will head into his home race one point behind Vettel after another strategical mistake denied him a certain victory at the Red Bull Ring before he retired with a loss of power.
Mercedes have enjoyed a remarkable run of success over the past four years, but their decision-making is now in the spotlight after they fell behind in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships on Sunday.
“Motor racing can be very cruel,” Wolff said. “We had all the cruelty go against us in Austria, and it got us brutally.
“But we have to get everyone together. We have got to analyse what went wrong, try not to do it again, understand how we can best avoid it happening again, and get our mind back to Silverstone and race as well as we can there.
“We will pick ourselves up in the next days, and go to Silverstone with our heads held high. It is a home race for the many team members in Brackley and Brixworth, so we will aim to come back strong and make amends for our failures.”
Wolff also moved to downplay fears that Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas‘ retirements on Sunday – Mercedes’ first double mechanical DNF of the modern era – are linked to the team’s upgraded engine.
“None of the issues on the cars were to do with engine reliability,” he added.
“The hydraulic leak on Valtteri’s car was linked to the steering, and we had a drop in fuel pressure on Lewis’ car which was linked to the fuel system. We have no regrets in introducing the new engine.”
Hamilton, the four-time champion, has not been at his dominating best yet this season, but poor strategy calls by Mercedes have still cost him victories in Australia and Austria, while their overly-cautious approach to a late safety car period in China was a factor in him dropping points there, too.
The Englishman, however, will be heartened by his record at Silverstone, having won in front of his home fans for the past four years.
He will also be boosted by an expected near sell-out crowd of 140,000 spectators on Sunday.
“I have every confidence in my team that we will be able to bounce back,” Hamilton said. “We will work on it and we will try to re-evaluate and come back stronger.”
Red Bull will begin an exciting phase next season after having signed a multi-year agreement with the Japanese manufacturers, as they bring an end to a 12-year long power unit relationship with Renault.
“This is certainly the right step forward, looking from the outside, for all parties,” said Wolff.
“It was important for Red Bull to have a works status. Long term probably the best chance to win a championship.
“Maybe short term, more work to do, but long term, from where I sit, absolutely the right decision. I am looking forward to tougher fights and tougher battles with Red Bull-Honda.”
“It’s about finding gains without compromising reliability… That fight is going to continue until the end of the season.”— Formula 1 (@F1) June 26, 2018
Toto Wolff on Mercedes' improved performance in France >> https://t.co/v7AdpqmFtC#F1 pic.twitter.com/hTxn3Vo2s2
Mercedes have enjoyed a long spell of sustained success over the last few years in F1, with Ferrari only managing to give them a strong challenge last year. And Wolff believes, the competition should keep growing, as it is a good sign for the sport.
“For us, as Mercedes, it is important that we have top brands in F1,” he added. “The more we can attract the better for all of us and the better for the sport.”