Well-connected journalists are reporting that Valtteri Bottas has been signed to replace Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari next year.
It is expected that his appointment will be announced at the end of July, the point at which Ferrari can exercise an option to extend Räikkönen’s current contract with the Italian team.
The rumours of Bottas’ appointment have been steadily gathering pace and, if true, will see the Williams team land a major financial windfall as Bottas’ five-year contract (of which this year is the fourth) would have to be bought out. Ferrari would logically stump up the cash, which would work out nicely for Williams.
Ferrari has made little secret of its disappointment with Räikkönen, who was re-hired at the end of 2013 (after being sacked at the end of 2009) amid some surprise from paddock insiders. The 2007 World Champion has claimed just one pole position and two fastest laps in the 28 races of his second stint to-date with the team.
A Bottas-to-Ferrari switch is something of a sideways step for the Finn, but in the carmaker’s favour are its considerably greater resources – technical and financial – than those possessed by Williams, which is still trying to fight its way back into the winners’ circle after years in the wilderness.
Such a move would get the driver market moving, and one could expect a number of other driver swaps to take place.
The big beneficiary could be the hugely undervalued Nico Hülkenberg, who could return to Williams having raced for them in 2010 before he was dispensed after one season when Pastor Maldonado and his multi-million-dollar sponsorship came knocking.
Hülkenberg is many pundits’ (romantic) favourite for a seat at Ferrari, but it seems likely that he might be overlooked again. A move to Williams is the next-best option, in addition to it keeping him on the radar of Williams’ engine partner, Mercedes…
Williams will have no shortage of candidates interested in the seat that could potentially be vacated by Bottas, should they indeed agree to terms to sell him to Ferrari. It has heavily promoted its reserve driver Alex Lynn as a future star, while there is also reported interest from the likes of the well-sponsored Felipe Nasr and veteran driver Jenson Button, whose future at McLaren is seemingly uncertain.
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