The big news yesterday certainly was the signing of Valtteri Bottas as Nico Rosberg’s replacement driver at Mercedes for 2017. One thing that wasn’t mentioned initially was the terms of that contract and more specifically the length of the contract.
Two things come to mind. If you are Mercedes, it’s about keeping all options open. You want Bottas for this season’s campaign and you want him on the hook for next year in case you don’t opt for luring Sebastian Vettel away from Ferrari at the end of 2018 and you also want the option to retain Bottas should he prove to be lightening in a bottle. In short, you want him on your team on your terms with the option to keep him locked in for as long as you want him and the option to dump him as soon as you don’t.
For Bottas, it’s about securing your long-term future at arguably the hottest team in F1. You want a long-term contract with options that would allow you to leave the team should they take a performance nose dive but also stay and be difficult to dislodge should you have an off year.
For Williams, letting go of your star driver and points-scoring plow horse is not something you want to take lightly. The only way you would let that happen is that you have a contract he cannot wriggle out of and you hold the cards on a driver Mercedes wants. Therefore, you want a free Mercedes engine supply, serious cash, long-term options for technical engine supply and relationship, options for possibly taking Bottas back instead of him leaving Mercedes for another team or all of the above.
No doubt it was at least a tri-partite deal and those aren’t easy to negotiate but they did and it now seems that perhaps Mercedes has a bit of the upper hand here.
“We were caught back with Nico’s decision to retire and we have some great junior drivers with Pascal [Wehrlein] and Esteban [Ocon] coming up the ranks.
“But they need a little bit more time so for us it was key to keep the options open and Valtteri is very well aware of that. He needs to just perform and be quick and then the future can be his.”
It seems they are suggesting that they have a one-year deal with Valtteri and some options to retain or dump or at least send back to Williams? That’s not exactly how I would have thought it would go down as I would have expected Valtteri and Williams to get some better meat hooks into Mercedes. Suffice it to say, there’s a good chance that the two people who wound up in the best position were Mercedes and Williams. Merc gets a tidy driver for 2017 who can roll around behind Lewis and sop up points and Williams, presumably, gets a sweet engine supply deal.
That’s not to suggest that Valtteri gets nothing. He gets a chance to show his stuff against, arguably, one of the best drivers in F1. There’s a nagging feeling I have that suggests if this is a one-year deal with options and performance clauses, then things may not be as straight forward as Lewis is leader and Bottas is #2.
Valtteri will have to put everything he has into this season to make an impression and justify his retention at Mercedes for 2018. That includes taking the fight to his teammate and we all know how that can go.
Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1