Williams racing driver Valtteri Bottas has become the outright favourite to replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
The German manufacturer has been actively searching for a replacement for their current world champion Rosberg, who retired five days after winning the championship. Multiple drivers including Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and even Jenson Button had been rumoured to join the Silver Arrows.
Bottas emerged as a quick favourite alongside Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein to replace the outgoing champion, but given recent reports that Mercedes has already made a substantial offer to Williams for Bottas’ contract, sees the Finn as an outright favourite to fill the seat left by Rosberg.
It’s believed the initial offer was rejected by Williams, as a spokesperson told Sky that their 2017 line-up remains unchanged.
Despite the initial setback, Bottas remains favourite as Mercedes are set to continue negotiations which could result in a large reduction in Williams’ engine bill, as the team are a customer of Mercedes. Bottas’ chances are also boosted by the fact Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is involved with the Finn’s management team.
Mercedes is also able to offer Wehrlein as a replacement for Bottas to partner newcomer Lance Stroll. However, Williams remain reluctant on releasing Bottas from his contract as he is considered an important asset to the team’s future given Felipe Massa’s retirement. In addition, the new regulations that come into effect in 2017 need an experienced driver providing reliable feedback to setup and improve the car, a trait which Bottas possess.
Add title sponsor Martini into the equation and the job becomes increasingly difficult for Mercedes, as it’s unknown how Martini would react to having an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old representing Williams.
To throw a spanner into the complicated works, Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe looks set to switch to Williams after refusing offers from a number of rival teams, which would see him join the team he started his Formula 1 career with back in 1987.
It’s understood that while Lowe switches from Mercedes to Williams, ex-Ferrari man James Allison – who mutually split with the Scuderia weeks after the passing of his wife – would take up the role vacated by Lowe at Mercedes.
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