Is bottas leaving Mercedes next year?
Valtteri Bottas will leave Mercedes to race for Alfa Romeo in 2022, paving the way for George Russell to join the world champions and partner Lewis Hamilton next year. ESPNWhy the time is right for Valtteri Bottas to make way for George Russell
07 September, 2021 - 04:20pm
It’s an idea that’s difficult to compute. Walking out of a door attached to the team who have won every single World Championship title the sport has to offer since 2014 aren’t going to be easy steps to make, and will initially fill Bottas with a sense of disappointment. But really, it's not all doom and gloom. In fact, this might well be the light at the end of the tunnel.
The chances of Bottas becoming World Champion in the second Mercedes seat compared to becoming World Champion in an Aston Martin, Alpine or McLaren are equal. Perhaps Alfa Romeo is half a single percentage point down, but the same theory applies. The reality is, no chance.
In equal machinery, Lewis Hamilton is always going to have the upper hand over Bottas. Arguably, only Max Verstappen and George Russell seem to have the potential to beat the seven-time World Champion over the course of a 23 race season, and we’re never going to see the Dutchman climb into a Mercedes. Certainly not anytime soon anyway. But we're going to see Russell climb into that Mercedes seat and it'll be interesting to see how he performs. Will Hamilton become the next Sebastian Vettel following his partnership with Charles Leclerc. Or will Mercedes put some orders on the young Brit? That's a story for another day.
Bottas has been trying to live up to the expectations Hamilton creates in the Mercedes ever since he arrived at the team for the 2017 season. Nine wins, 17 poles and 54 podiums isn’t a bad return from 92 Grands Prix. He’s successfully completed his criteria, including four consecutive Constructors Championships. But he will no longer have that stress of being compared to Hamilton. He can enjoy the weekend without the weight of expectation or comparison.
And at a different team, he can look for a long-term contract rather than one single-year contract he's been getting. Signing just a one-year contract extension isn’t advantageous for the driver because you’re always fighting against it. By the time the ink gets to dry in the hot summer days, the Championship for Bottas is usually over. And when it starts again in March, he’s under pressure to ensure he gets another chance to scribble over the paper. That's all gone. He can relax right from the start of the season and really focus on getting the best out of himself and the car, rather than thinking about being on the grid next season.
With the rules and regulation book getting a reprint in 2022, and at 31 years of age, it’s the perfect time for Bottas to escape the vicious circle at Mercedes. There's always been this talk about Bottas 3.0, or whatever version we're running now, but the reality is, he's never been able to push that reset button.
Now, in a new environment, we really will see Bottas 2.0. A new version, a fresh start. And we'll really find out how good of a driver he is.
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07 September, 2021 - 04:20pm
By Chris Medland September 6, 2021 12:29 PM
By Chris Medland | September 6, 2021 12:29 PM ET
It had already been reported, and the drivers knew, so their attempts to bat away the questions during the Dutch Grand Prix were not the most successful.
“I know where I’ll be driving next year,” George Russell admitted. “Verbally (told) before Spa. I’m not going to sit here and lie and not say the truth. The truth is there’s nothing to announce, but I’m aware of the situation of where I’ll be racing next year and I was informed just prior to Spa.”
After all-but-admitting that he knew his future too, Valtteri Bottas betrayed the fact that it wasn’t at Mercedes by talking about a new project.
“A multi-year contract would be nice, that’s something I never had before in Formula 1,” Bottas said. “That way I definitely could give full commitment to the team, knowing that the work will continue.
“It needs to be challenging, it needs to be exciting, it needs to be fun, in an atmosphere I’d really enjoy working in. I think those are really the main things I’m looking forward to.
“I still have quite a few years in Formula 1. I really want to continue in Formula 1, for sure.”
If that wasn’t enough confirmation for anyone, then the change in tone from Lewis Hamilton – whom Mercedes has taken advice from, but not bowed down to – regarding Russell really sealed the deal.
“I think it would be quite good,” Hamilton said of being paired with Russell. “I honestly think it would be good. George is an incredibly talented driver, clearly.
Hamilton’s public statements about the prospect of Russell joining Mercedes have shifted increasingly toward endorsement in recent weeks. Steven Tee / LAT Images)
“(Russell) is the future, he’s one of the members of the future of the sport. I think he’s already shown incredible driving so far, and I’m sure he’s going to continue to grow. So where better to do it than in a great team like this or what team wherever he goes to?”
Prior to that, Hamilton hadn’t really entertained the idea of Russell joining him; at least, not in public. He had been steadfast in his support of Bottas, and it’s clear to see why.
Bottas has been the perfect teammate for Hamilton, even if he hasn’t been the most exciting one from a neutral’s point of view. The Finn has regularly been the driver second or third on the road behind his more decorated team leader, and has been able to push him particularly hard in qualifying.
Seeing Bottas pick up 17 pole positions in his 92 races for Mercedes so far is a solid effort when compared to the 40 achieved by the most successful qualifier in F1 history. But of those 17 occasions, precious few have been converted into victories: five, to be precise.
Regularly he has dropped back from that position; his race pace not quite matching his qualifying performances. Certainly, he was not at the level of Hamilton and Max Verstappen on most Sundays. But then, Mercedes didn’t always need him to be.
Quite often, Bottas was required to make life strategically difficult for Verstappen, to be the spanner in the works that allowed Hamilton a better chance of victory against a Red Bull that was regularly lacking a second driver at the sharp end. That has even continued this year, where Sergio Perez – on the podium only twice ,compared to seven time for Bottas – has lacked the consistency needed to put Red Bull top of the constructors’ standings.
So Bottas hasn’t needed to change anything from a Mercedes point of view up until now. He has fulfilled the role perfectly and ensured they won every constructors’ championship – and that Hamilton has claimed every drivers’ title – since he joined.
But all good things must come to an end, and it’s definitely time for that.
Bottas has performed the role required of him by Mercedes perfectly during his years with the team. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images
Confirmation of Russell’s promotion will come on Tuesday (if it were even needed after the Bottas announcement), and Mercedes simply couldn’t ignore the performances the Briton was delivering. Some of his qualifying laps in the Williams have been superb, and that has convinced the team that he can do a similar job to Bottas on a Saturday.
With that strength retained, the expectation is for Russell to be an upgrade on Sundays. He has made mistakes in his young career so far, but has also driven impressively under pressure, often having to be defensive after qualifying an uncompetitive Williams further up the grid than it really deserved to be.
He has also shown he can be a team player, taking the opportunity to tell the world when he informed Williams it should prioritize Nicholas Latifi and sacrifice his own race when his teammate was running in the top three early in the chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix. Russell told me that wasn’t a pointed comment, but it certainly was a smart one either way.
Not that Mercedes particularly needs Russell to be that same team player that Bottas has been, because he has been chosen for a different role. Bottas was picked as a very solid, quick team player who would steady Mercedes after the destabilizing spell when Nico Rosberg and Hamilton fought. He had four years of experience behind him, and turned 28 in the year he joined alongside a 32-year-old Hamilton.
Now Bottas is that 32-year-old, Hamilton approaching the later stages of his career and Russell with it all ahead of him at just 23. As the defending champion himself said, he’s the future.
Which is why he couldn’t be allowed to stagnate and needed his big break, and why Bottas also needed a new opportunity. The Finn has done his time, but without Hamilton making a shock decision to stop, he was never going to get his chance to lead at Mercedes, and so that prospect comes elsewhere.
A year ago might have yielded Bottas better options on the grid given the amount of driver movement elsewhere, but he is at least getting to be a big fish in a smaller pond at Alfa Romeo, and will be called upon as the experienced leader to drive the team forward. Whether 2022 offers a more competitive opportunity than 2021 does for that team remains to be seen, but at Mercedes the best-case scenario was once again playing second fiddle to Hamilton.
Bottas gets the chance to rebuild his reputation a little and prove himself as one of the best drivers on the grid who just happened to be paired with an even better one for the past five years. For Russell, a slightly different challenge awaits, as he doesn’t necessarily need to take the fight to Hamilton, but he does have to show himself to be good enough to succeed the seven-time world champion as the team’s focal point at some stage in the future – something that was never really expected of Bottas.
Whether either of them take those chances or not will be in their own hands.
While studying Sports Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, Chris managed to talk his way into working at the British Grand Prix in 2008 and was retained for three years before joining ESPN F1 as Assistant Editor. After three years at ESPN, a spell as F1 Editor at Crash Media Group was followed by the major task of launching F1i.com’s English-language website and running it as Editor. Present at every race since the start of 2014, he has continued building his freelance portfolio, working with international titles. As well as writing for RACER, he contributes to BBC 5Live and Sky Sports in the UK as well as working with titles in Japan and the Middle East.
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07 September, 2021 - 04:20pm
In a shocking turn of events, the Williams backmarker has been promoted to F1's most dominant team. Who could've seen this coming?
In what has perhaps been the most well-kept secret in the racing world, the 23-year old British driver, who has had a best finish of second in the controversial 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, will join seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton at the most dominant team of the V-6 hybrid era.
There has been absolutely zero indication Russell had any chance moving from Williams to the very best. It's not like Russell has maintained a strong relationship with Mercedes-AMG for years now, or even drove for the team once in 2020 when Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, or anything. Really, who could've seen this coming?
Russell has been one of the least interesting drivers to enter the field in recent years, with little to no results to back up his promotion. It's safe to say there will be absolutely no close battles or conflicts between him and Hamilton, who will now be on level playing fields for 2022 which, coincidentally, will feature a major revamp of the F1 car design. We expect Russell to sit back and act as a team player to help Hamilton cruise to victory, rather than fight for wins. It's not like he has the talent to do anything else, right?
07 September, 2021 - 04:20pm
Will Mercedes be any good at F1 next year?
If you’ve only been watching Formula One since you heard about it on Drive To Survive, then you’re rolling your eyes over backwards and plunging headlong into the comments. Who could doubt the dominance of Merc? They’ve won every championship of the turbo-hybrid era, 2014-2020. Seven on the spin and in the hunt for an eighth.
Thing is, the rules change big-time for 2022. Bigger wheels mean new tyres and rethought suspension. The wings and bodywork are totally changing tack to encourage closer racing, more overtaking and reimagine how an F1 car generates its vital downforce.
And, hopefully, the cars will cease being trickier to follow than a Christopher Nolan screenplay.
But when the rules change big-time for F1, there’s usually one team that susses it out, and sprints off into the distance while everyone else scowls at the rulebook.
Take 2009: wider front wings, taller rear wings, much cleaner bodywork and a return to slick tyres. McLaren, Ferrari and BMW foundered. The championship was won by the dregs of the Honda F1 team, bought out by Ross Brawn, competing in a car that barely had any sponsorship. But it did have a clever diffuser that clawed back lots of the lost downforce. And Jenson Button got his title.
By 2010, Adrian Newey had got his act together, and Red Bull scored four championships on the bounce. And then promptly slumped into oblivion during the early years of the turbo-hybrid rules. Cue Mercedes steamrollering from 2014 onwards.
Even in what are considered some of F1’s glory days - the Senna/Prost rivalry of 1989, or Mika vs Michael in the McLaren/Ferrari duel on the late 1990s - there’s almost never a multi-team fight for the championship. One team will get it pretty much spot on, and another might run them close. If we’re lucky.
Is it guaranteed that Mercedes will still be a front-runner when everyone has to show their homework next season? I wouldn’t say so. Sleeping giants like McLaren and Ferrari will have been concentrating on the 2022 regs for a while now. Mercedes said it had stopped upgrading 2021’s car to focus on the rule change, but then backtracked and promised it was still working flat-out to keep Lewis’s car in the hunt against a mightily impressive Max Verstappen in a championship-worthy Red Bull.
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I just hope George Russell’s supposed dream ticket to a front-running car is exactly that. He deserves it. And we the fans deserve to watch a titanic Hamilton vs Russell Brit-vs-Brit rivalry for the ages.
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