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MERCEDES CHOSES BOTTAS

 

AND THE CARDS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

 

  The final long standing non secret was confirmed this morning with the announcements by Sauber, Mercedes and Williams of their driver line-ups for 2017. Pascal Wehrlein was first confirmed as replacing Felipe Nasr at Sauber, followed quickly by the not so shocking news that Valtteri Bottas was moving from Williams to Mercedes and then that, as no-one didn’t suspect, Felipe Massa was not retiring after all and would be staying on at Williams alongside the rookie Lance Stroll. So that, it seems, is that for 2017 driver line-ups. Except that it may be that Manor has received a last second purchase offer which if it is accepted by Friday will save the team and there will still be two seats up for grabs. Maybe…

 

  These announcements are good news for the three drivers concerned but perhaps not so for Felipe Nasr who has had some pretty impressive moments over the last two seasons at Sauber. But unless he can get one of the possible Manor drives he will be out on his ear come Melbourne in March. His debut drive to fifth at Albert Park in 2015 was sublime and in the first half of that year he was well on top of his team-mate Marcus Ericsson in both points and qualifying. Since then however, his dominance has declined. In the end Ericsson started ahead on the grid by a margin of 21-19 although Nasr still won the points battle 29-9. In an ideal world Nasr would deserve his seat in 2017 but in the harsh reality, where in the lower echelon teams money counts for as much as talent, if you cannot utterly destroy your team-mate and he brings in more of that filthy lucre, I still think that term sounds like the name of an Italian team manager… you’re going to lose out. And when Felipe’s Brazilian banking backers pulled the plug, his chances went down the gurgler.

 

  For Wehrlein it is a step up to a potentially more competitive car, especially if Manor don’t survive, and the chance to impress more off the track than on. No-one doubts his speed, his points scoring drive in Austria and the fact that he dragged the Manor into the second qualifying session way more than it deserved are testament to that. He does though, have a reputation for being a touch difficult. Having to be told, in no uncertain terms, to switch off his engine SIX times in Austin after beaching the Manor in the kitty litter shows a certain lack of maturity. If not a little stupidity. There are reports that while in the Mercedes DTM squad he managed to alienate every other driver and many of the other team staff through his self centred attitude. It was more this than any performance issue that saw, not just Mercedes decide not to promote him to replace Rosberg, but Force India to chose his Manor team-mate Esteban Ocon over him for 2017. Hopefully as his youth fades into the distance so will this immaturity and he can grow into the sort of top line driver that Mercedes will not overlook for their F1 squad, because he is quick enough to be very good indeed.

 

  Valtteri Bottas now has a chance to really show just how good he is. All reports from those that have worked with him say that he is without question, champion material. Beating Hamilton in the same car, even if that doesn’t bring a title, will prove them correct. And I really hope he can prove it. From the outside though it is tough to judge. Is generally being on top of an aging Felipe Massa really proof positive that he is the real deal? Would he have had the same level of performance advantage over one of the other upper midfield drivers such as Perez or Hulkenberg. How would he have performed against an Alonso, Ricciardo, Verstappen or Sainz? Maybe the drivers flattered the Williams and Massa was driving at the level he was back in 08 when he so nearly won the title and Bottas is better than that. But equally, the Williams may have been a better car than it’s drivers showed. Hard to tell. I guess by the time we get to November we will have our answer, and I hope that Valtteri is as good as his supporters claim. It will not only be good for Valtteri, but for us, the fans as well.

 

  As for Felipe, well he never wanted to retire anyway. He just wasn’t going to get re-hired at Williams and had no better prospects in F1 so was going to go race elsewhere. Now both Williams, and their sponsors Martini need him back. Williams because they need an experienced driver to help Stroll learn the ropes and maintain consistency of feedback with all the regulation changes. Martini need him because as an alcohol company they do not want two very young drivers as the faces of their brand. Stroll is too young to drink in many countries so that would not be a good look. So as Martini need Felipe, so do Williams as they need to keep the Martini cash flowing. It’s not just with the bottom dwellers that money talks. And if Felipe is driving as well as ever, why would you not keep him?

 

  Lets hope that Manor do get saved from liquidation, they all have a stella season and we get some great racing along the way.

 

  Sam Snape

 

  17-01 2017