Mercedes remains uncommitted as to when or if driver Valtteri Bottas will be given a new contract. The Finnish driver joined from Williams in an emergency move after world champion Nico Rosberg stunned Mercedes by retiring just days after securing the Formula One title.
Bottas, who was given a one year deal, has exceeded expectations given how well he has settled in as Lewis Hamilton’s teammate. He has won one race and secured three further podium finishes and a pole position, putting him in third place in the championship race.
Bottas, who says he is not in discussions with other teams, wants a long-term contract. Whether he gets one is a different matter. “I think we just want to give ourselves time to see how the season pans out,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “Probably it’s about getting more and more confidence. No reason why not to continue with Valtteri.”
Asked what more Bottas has to do, Wolff replied “just to continue what he does now.” That would seem to imply he must win at least one more race over the coming weeks, although Wolff steered clear of issuing ultimatums.
“I wouldn’t want to attach it on a specific race result. Every day he’s with us it becomes more clear. It’s just that, I’ve been in this sport now for seven or eight years,” Wolff said. “Sometimes taking your time is not always a comfortable situation for the driver, but it’s important to understand what’s happening. This is why we won’t be rushing into any decision.”
Questioned again as to when a decision will be made, Wolff said “I don’t know.” If Mercedes seems to be hedging its bets, it is with good reason.
The situation is made more complex given the position of other drivers, notably two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso.
Alonso looks increasingly likely to leave struggling McLaren the only team not to score a point in the first seven races of the season. There is also some ambiguity concerning the future of Hamilton, who has been at Mercedes since 2012.
Hamilton has openly spoken of his admiration for Ferrari, although stopped short of saying he wants to join the Italian team. But a seat could be available there next year given that Kimi Raikkonen is 37 years old, while four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel’s contract with Ferrari expires at the end of this year.
Should Hamilton leave Mercedes, the team would arguably need a stronger No. 1 driver than Bottas and Alonso clearly has the credentials to compete for the title in a good car. But Alonso turns 36 next month and does not have long left at the top; so it could be now or never.
Alonso’s agent, the Italian Flavio Briatore, was in the F1 paddock during this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP and had dinner Friday with Wolff and Niki Lauda, a three-time F1 champion who has a non-executive chairman’s role at Mercedes.
“Well, you have dinner with Flavio it’s clear that you talk about Alonso,” Wolff said. “But we are very happy with our current driver lineup, there’s no reason to question that, so there wasn’t any talk about Fernando joining the team.”
That might yet change, given that Alonso is expected to confirm sometime over the summer if he is leaving McLaren.