Despite a binding contract with Williams, Valtteri Bottas lost no time in courting Mercedes for the plum drive given up by Nico Rosberg.
In a speech to Mercedes’ workforce in Brackley last December following the reigning world champion’s retirement, Toto Wolff said that with the exception of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyatthat, almost every driver on the F1 grid had contacted him about the drive!
Valtteri Bottas was one of them.
“I called, it was the same day when Nico stepped down,” the Finn told Auto, Motor und Sport.
“As a racing driver, you always want to sit in the very best car. I’ve made it clear to Mercedes that I want to win races and become world champion.”
There’s no doubt of Bottas’ commitment and intent, but with a three-time world champion of the likes of Lewis Hamilton sitting on the other side of the garage, winning – let alone winning the title – is a very tall order.
“It’s a huge challenge for me. On the other hand, we also have a huge opportunity. I appreciate Lewis very high. I respect his achievements and his driving qualities. It will surely be a difficult year for me if I want success. ”
One aspect that could play into Bottas’ hands is the fact that Hamilton and himslef will be starting the season from ground zero, as neither will have a proper reference to rely on with a car designed around a whole new set of regulations.
“If I had come to Mercedes in 2016, it would have been harder,” Bottas explained.
“It is good that it is new for all. The cars will be faster in the corners and will be different with the new tires.
“It is still an advantage to know the team and the systems within the team for a long time, and know how they work. I have to catch up. My learning curve will be great.”
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Nico Rosberg says he has no doubt that Mercedes will consider Sebastian Vettel for 2018, regardless of how new recruit Valtteri Bottas performs this season.
The F1 silly season, when speculations ramp up about who goes where the following year, could enjoy an early start in 2017 with a few key drivers set to dominate the chessboard.
Sebastian Vettel’s contract with Ferrari will expire at the end of this year, and while the Scuderia could press the German early on for an extension, it may have to contend with a massive push by Mercedes to recruit the four-time title winner.
The Silver Arrows outfit has anticipated this outcome which is why Valtteri Bottas has been signed to a one-year contract.
“I understand that the ‘Bottas solution’ made sense for Mercedes,” Rosberg told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“But Vettel’s contract at Ferrari ends this year, so he’d be a sensible option for Mercedes and one I’m sure they’ll contemplate.”
Another fox who could potentially upset the hen house is Fernando Alonso who is currently in the last year of his three-year contract with McLaren.
Many doubt however that Lewis Hamilton would take the Spaniard’s move to Mercedes lying down when one remembers the soured relationship between the two men which prevailed at McLaren back in 2007.
Nico Hulkenberg is writing off suggestions that he is the de facto team leader at Renault this season.
On the eve of his seventh year of Grand Prix racing and his first with a full works team after stints with Williams, Sauber and Force India, Hulkenberg is perceived as the natural leader and galvanizer at Renault given his experience compared to team mate Jolyon Palmer.
But the German says he is indifferent to the label, preferring to focus on the job at hand and building Renault and his own successful future.
“To be honest that’s not so important,” he told Racer‘s Chris Medland.
“I think that’s something that gets emphasised by the media, to lead the team. What does it mean, to lead the team?
“You want to be in front, you want to beat your team-mate. If you lead or not, it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s more important for me to help the team, to bring it forward, to develop it and then later on to develop for me.
“That also means I have to beat my team–mate whoever that will be, both this year and beyond.
But I’m not too fussed about the leader thing – I’m going to do my job and whoever is next to me is not really that important to me.”