Mercedes pick Valtteri Bottas to keep Lewis Hamilton honest
Finnish driver may lack star quality, but he has ice in his veins and could be a title contender
F1 champions Mercedes have announced that Valtteri Bottas will partner Lewis Hamilton next season.
The 27-year-old Finn was unveiled as the replacement for retired world champion Nico Rosberg this week. He joins from Williams and is believed to have signed an initial one-year deal.
Although Bottas was widely expected to be offered the Mercedes seat he lacks some of his new team-mate's star quality, says Andrew Benson of the BBC.
"Bottas might not be the most exciting of choices for Mercedes," he says. "Fans around the world would have loved to see Hamilton battle McLaren's Fernando Alonso again, or take on Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen, or Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. But his appeal to Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff is obvious.
"Bottas shares many of Rosberg's characteristics. Both are calm, unobtrusive characters, who are generally pliable and understanding in terms of working with the team and lack the demanding nature of a Hamilton or Alonso."
The Finn was a consistent performer for Williams, but Mercedes will expect him to "morph from being an occasional podium visitor to a race-winner and possibly title contender this year".
If he does not impress this year his Mercedes career could be a short one, says James Galloway of Sky Sports.
"Mercedes did not disclose the length of Bottas's contract but Wolff, Mercedes's motorsport boss, has hinted at an initial one-year term with options beyond that.
"If Bottas fails to make the grade in 2017, then Mercedes will be well placed to enter what is expected to be a busy driver market for next year. As it stands, multiple champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are both out of contract in December."
The Finn's first challenge will be dealing with Hamilton, who has a track record of falling out with his team-mates. However, Bottas "has more than enough ice in his veins to keep his Mercedes team-mate honest", says Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph.
"Bottas, while lacking any electrifying charisma, has displayed an impressive ability throughout his four seasons at Williams to detach himself from controversy. Nothing like as combustible as Hamilton, or as mischievous as Sebastian Vettel, or as on-the-edge as Max Verstappen, he has stayed aloof from any contretemps to forge his reputation as one of the most dependable drivers in the paddock."
At Mercedes he will be expected to take a few more risks, says Brown. The 27-year-old has yet to win a Grand Prix and "has so far made his name as a points machine, rather than a serial victor".
However, he has claimed nine podium finishes in "a Williams car that could most generously be described as the fourth best in the field, and it is this consistency that Wolff trusts can make him the worthiest of adversaries to Hamilton".
Valterri Bottas tipped to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
There could be an unexpected return to F1 for Felipe Massa after Williams driver Valtteri Bottas emerged as the favourite to replace world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes next season.
The Finn is Mercedes' "preferred choice", says The Guardian, and Williams are prepared to do business, with deputy team principal Claire Williams telling BBC Sport they would let him leave "if an experienced, credible alternative was available".
She also suggested Brazilian driver Massa could return, despite retiring at the end of this season.
"We have always known Valtteri is one of the sport's key talents and are proud that the championship leaders recognise this," said Williams. "If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would only do this if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as someone like Felipe Massa, for example."
However, The Times reports "Williams have rejected Mercedes' first offer for Bottas, but talks are continuing". The team are not expected to name their new driver before 3 January.
The choice apparently also involves Mercedes' remaining driver, Lewis Hamilton, who says they "must consult him on who should replace Nico Rosberg next season", reports the Guardian
"Basically, once they've dwindled it down to five drivers, or whatever it is, the shortlist, contractually they have to discuss with me," said the three-times world champion.
He also warned his bosses it would be a mistake to bring in his old McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, as was rumoured this month. The pair fell out during Hamilton's first season with the team in 2007 and Alonso joined Ferrari
"I drove against Fernando in my first year and beat him, so that's not a worry for me," said Hamilton. "I'm happy to drive against any [other driver]. But in terms of what is best for the team, [it's] probably not the best ideas."
While Bottas has no history with Hamilton, he could provide him with a challenge. The 27-year-old driver has been with Williams for four years and finished in the top ten of the drivers championship in each of the past three seasons, frequently outperforming his teammate Massa.
Mercedes keen on Alonso, but who will replace Rosberg?
Mercedes are considering a move for McLaren driver Fernando Alonso as they hunt for a replacement for Nico Rosberg, who shocked Formula 1 by announcing his retirement five days after winning the drivers' championship last week.
The German team boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports: "You have to consider Fernando... He is a driver I respect a lot. He combines talent, speed and experience. It's all there."
However, Mercedes would have their work cut out persuading McLaren to let the Spaniard go, particularly as the team's other driver, Jenson Button, retired at the end of the season. Alonso also fell out badly with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes's other driver, during their time together at McLaren.
It means that even if the Germans do make a move "the cost of buying out Alonso's contract and the Spaniard's turbulent relationship with Hamilton could yet prove to be stumbling blocks", says the BBC.
Although the Spaniard "is fed up with making up the numbers and would be tempted by a move to the best team in the sport", a deal seems unlikely says Kevin Eason of The Times.
"The job of replacing Rosberg looks more difficult by the minute," he adds. "Although Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, says that his phone has been red hot since Rosberg's shock announcement, he is no nearer to finding a suitable replacement."
So if Alonso is unlikely to join, who else is in the frame?
The Ferrari driver has endured a difficult year and fits the bill for Mercedes, says Sky Sports. "Mercedes have fielded at least one German driver in each of their seven seasons since their return to team ownership and Vettel's four world titles and 42 wins make him the country's second-most successful driver after Michael Schumacher, who drove for the team in 2010-12.
But although Vettel was "thought to be a leading contender [he] has now ruled himself out", says Eason of the Times.
Asked about the possibility of joining Mercedes, the German said: "I think it's not a big secret that both myself and Kimi [Raikkonen] have a contract for next year. So it should be clear."
The teenager was the breakthrough star of the past season and a partnership with Hamilton would be mouthwatering. However, Red Bull are unlikely to let either Verstappen, a superstar of the future, or his teammate Daniel Ricciardo leave.
"There is no realistic prospect of Red Bull releasing Max Verstappen or Daniel Ricciardo for next year even if either driver wanted to leave," says Sky.
The youngster is the bookies' favourites despite his lack of experience. This year was his first as an F1 driver, and he spent it behind the wheel of a Manor. In 21 races he managed a single point, for tenth place in the Austrian Grand Prix, and retired five times.
However, he is only 22 and has been a test driver for Mercedes.
"The youngster is unproven and untested at the sharp end of the grid but has a longstanding Mercedes connection, has yet to be signed by any team for next season, and his German nationality will appeal to the Mercedes group's Stuttgart-based powerbrokers," says Sky.