The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team have today confirmed that Valtteri Bottas will replace Nico Rosberg as team-mate to Lewis Hamilton in 2017.
Having retired from the sport just days after winning the 2016 world championship, Rosberg left Mercedes with a huge gap to fill and very little time to do it in.
The world champions had always had their sights set on Bottas as a replacement for the German, and with the Finn’s connections to Mercedes Motorsport Boss Toto Wolff as part of his personal management team, it was initially thought it would be a done deal from the get go.
Things were not all plain sailing for the German squad however, as Williams Martini Racing, with whom Bottas was still under contract to, declined the first deal offered by Mercedes, which included a reduction in engine costs as well as the services of junior driver Pascal Wehrlein.
The British team were concerned that they would be lacking experience next season if they let Bottas go, with debutant Lance Stroll in the other Williams seat, fielding two young drivers would not be ideal in a season full of new rules and regulations.
However, following discussions with former driver Felipe Massa, who retired from the sport at the end of 2016, they were able to lure him back to Grove for one last go at it. The Brazilian will bring the desired experience and seniority, as well as a familiarity with the workings of the car and team, and would be able to provide the sort of feedback they will require to move forward in 2017.
Bottas has proven his talent throughout his journey to F1, and a chance to race in the most competitive machine on the grid is thoroughly deserving, as Mercedes Motorsport Boss Toto Wolff explained from a live announcement at the teams Brackley factory today.
“Sometimes in life, unexpected circumstances provide interesting opportunities. Nico’s decision in December was a big surprise – certainly a challenging situation for the team to handle. But weathering the storm makes you more resilient and we see this as another opportunity for the team to grow.
“Valtteri is a no-nonsense guy: down to earth, straightforward and very focused. Pretty Finnish, to be honest, and a great fit for us. He has an impressive track record in the junior categories and nine podiums in F1. But now it’s time for the next level, to see how he can step up to challenge for race wins and for Championships.
“We know that we are already behind the curve in terms of preparations for the new season, so we’ve got a busy programme to get him integrated into the team. One thing is for sure: as I know Valtteri, he will give it everything.
“We have confidence in Valtteri’s ability and it’s one of the reasons that he is the driver we set our sights on this winter.
“The next weeks will be busy as we work to build relationships so Valtteri understands the team and the car. But that’s an exciting challenge that will bring us fresh energy and a new dynamic between the drivers. And, of course, we’re working hard to give Lewis and Valtteri the car they need to do the job.
“On behalf of Mercedes, I must also thank Williams for their cooperation in allowing Valtteri to make this move – and also Monisha and Sauber for their patience during the past weeks [for the signing of Pascal Wehrlein to Sauber].”
The Finn also expressed his delight at being given such a fantastic opportunity, and confirmed he was ready for the challenge.
“I’ve had a really warm welcome so far. Of course, I have a lot more people to meet and new faces to remember. But initially everything has felt very good.
“My first experience with Mercedes power was in F3 back in 2009 and, of course, I know the Power Unit well from the last three years with Williams. But there are a lot of new things to learn with the car and also with how the team operates at the factory, in testing and at the races.
“I’m ready to work hard, to prove myself to the team and to prove my skills. It’s going to be a challenging season and joining a new team makes it more work than normal. But I’m 100% ready for that.
“I’m training hard to be at my physical best because it will be much tougher with these new cars. I always set the bar really high, so my target is to perform from the first race. I’m full of energy and ready to get to work for this year and hopefully many more to come with Mercedes.”
Bottas also paid tribute to Williams, who gave him his chance in F1.
“My debut in F1, my first points and nine podiums all came with the guys and girls at Grove, so I must say a big thanks to everyone and I wish them all the very best for the future.”
The Finn began making a real name for himself back in 2008, when he took titles in both the Formula Renault Eurocup and the Formula Renault Northern European Cup, a feat that had only ever been achieved by one other driver at that time.
The following year he moved up to the Formula 3 Euroseries, and despite not winning a race he still managed to finish a respectable third place overall. That same year he took part in and won the Masters of Formula 3 event in Zandvoort, having qualified on pole and posted the fastest lap of the race.
He went on to complete the Masters double when he claimed the crown again in 2010, and remains the only driver ever to have won it twice, prompting Frank Williams to immediately sign the flying Finn up to the Grove based team’s test programme.
He competed in the GP3 Series with Lotus ART whilst continuing his duties with Williams during 2011, and a phenomenal second half of the season, winning races in each of the last four rounds, sealed the championship title for him at the penultimate round of the season.
Williams promoted him to reserve driver following that dominant campaign and it was in this role he earned the respect of the management for his impressive results, outperforming the teams then full-time driver Bruno Senna, during Friday morning practice sessions.
His efforts saw him bumped up to a full-time race seat alongside Pastor Maldonado in 2013, but the lack of drivability from the Williams that year gave Bottas little opportunity to showcase his much raved about ability. Glimpses of his genius did shine through however, during qualifying for the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix where from nowhere he put in a stunning lap to see him line up third on the grid, and a dazzlingly display of skill in the 2013 US Grand Prix, when he came home eighth, collecting his first ever F1 points.
The 2014 season brought about new rule changes and the introduction of the hybrid era, a concept that proved to be a winning one for Williams. Bottas took full advantage, securing six podiums to finish fourth in the driver standings, fifty points ahead of more experienced team-mate Massa.
He outscored the Brazilian again in 2015, but Williams form was beginning to wane and he could only make it onto the podium twice during the season. The lull in performance continued in 2016, and the Finn bagged what was the team’s only podium finish of the year in Canada.
The FW38 has failed to exude the sort of performance the Grove based squad had hoped for over the last two seasons, which has made it difficult for the Finn to show what he is truly capable of. Now he has the opportunity to show what he can do in a championship winning machine however, all the signs indicate Bottas will perform to the highest standards, and could well give Hamilton a run for his money along the way!