- Photo: Mercedes
It was what everybody was waiting for: Mercedes’ decision. The announcement a few days ago of Valtteri Bottas signing as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate, and to a world reference team, was a key piece of the 2017 line up grid puzzle. This is now practically closed: Massa returns to the track with Williams and Wehrlein moves to Sauber, leaving just one open question, the future of Manor.
There were other options but Bottas was always Wolff’s first choice to replace champion Rosberg after his surprise retirement. Although Lewis Hamilton made clear that it is not his job to choose a driver, he does have an influence in the decision making process, particularly in vetting options. He presumably would have not been pleased with the idea of bringing another rooster in his pen, namely Fernando Alonso. Mercedes seems to not fully trust Wehrlein yet to pilot the best car in the grid, although all along it has remained as the easy pay-off free plan B. It was not long after Bottas’ signing was announced, that Wehrlein’s move to Sauber was confirmed. There he will have a chance to keep on growing this season.
The details of Bottas’ transfer to Mercedes have not been revealed yet. Besides this, Mercedes opted for the middle ground, a high level and reliable driver (nine podiums in F1) but not another number one. A luxury esquire… as was Rosberg initially. The German champion praised his successor as soon as the news was official and the later has welcomed this great opportunity at the controls of a great single-seater with open arms . It is going to be exciting to see the level that he can (or is allowed to reach) within this new context.
The third piece of the puzzle fell into place just as quickly as the others. Having let Bottas go, Williams coaxed Felipe Massa out of his newly enjoyed retirement, intending to counterbalance debutant Stroll’s youth and dispelling any possibility for a risky Wehrlein transfer which was considered on the first weeks of Bottas’ negotiations.
The rest of the line up is unlikely to bring any surprises, at least until next summer when many big contracts come to an end. Ferrari and Red Bull remain unchanged and McLaren holds onto Alonso alongside young enigma Stefan Vandoorne. Promising Esteban Ocon, who also came up as a possible partner for Hamilton in some bets, will finally race for Force India instead of Hulkenberg. In another of this years’ greatest moves, the latter will attempt the challenge of bringing Renault out of its ditch. The only question remaining today is about Manor, will they be able to race and if so with which car.