By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Reports are starting to emerge that Valtteri Bottas is Mercedes main target as a replacement for recently retired world champion Nico Rosberg.
In any other year this would be a slam dunk move, as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff manages Bottas and would gladly give a large discount to Williams on their Mercedes engines for the next season.
Wolff has already made an offer as such, roughly $10 million off for Williams engine package for 2017, but Williams has said no.
They did so because this is not any other year. With Felipe Massa retired, Bottas is now the undisputed team leader at Williams. Bottas will be joined by highly rated rookie Lance Stroll, who will be the second youngest F1 driver in history after Max Verstappen when he makes his debut in Melbourne.
But with an incoming rookie on top of the massive changes to the 2017 cars Williams needs the experience, the calm, and the leadership of Bottas more than ever as they seek to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 campaign.
Further complicating matters is that Paddy Lowe, the current technical director at Mercedes is set to join Williams for 2017.
Mercedes could gift Williams their reserve driver, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, but that would leave the Grove based squad with the least experienced outfit on the grid. It is telling and unfortunate for Wehrlein that neither Williams or Mercedes themselves seem keen on taking up his services, both preferring a more experienced driver.
Mercedes will surely counter with an even more lucrative offer and Claire Williams might well accept it. A deal would give Mercedes a safe pair of hands in Bottas. A near like for like replacement for Rosberg; someone fast, capable, and calm to keep Lewis Hamilton honest. Williams would save a pretty penny, but loose their team leader and face the biggest technical changes the sport has seen in 20 years with an all new line up.
They could call up their former reserve driver Felipe Nasr. Nasr has lost his Banco de Brasil sponsorship and as a result his Sauber seat seems all but gone, but perhaps moving from the back of the grid to the front of the midfield could entice Banco de Brasil back into the picture.
Should Williams refuse any further offers, Mercedes may be forced to go with Wehrlein, but some speculate they could be able to pry Carlos Sainz from his Toro Rosso seat. However, going hat in hand and giving a big check to Red Bull is the last thing Wolff or Mercedes will want to do.
It may be Bottas or Bust for Mercedes.