Toto Wolff has affirmed that Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport are “100% behind” Valtteri Bottas as rumours continue to circulate regarding his future beyond 2019.
Bottas called 2018 his “worst season yet” in Formula 1, becoming the first Mercedes driver since Michael Schumacher in ’12 to fail to collect a win in a season. The Finn finished in a lowly fifth in the Drivers’ Championship 161 points behind world champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
With Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon resigned to a testing spot with Mercedes after losing his race seat with the Racing Point F1 Team despite two stellar seasons, it is believed that Bottas could make way for the Frenchman should he underperform in 2019.
Although Wolff ceded that Ocon is a future target for Mercedes, he maintained that Bottas is still a trusted driver.
“Esteban is a factor for us in the future,” Wolff told ESPN. “We have options for Esteban for 2020, but of course he might also be an option for Mercedes.
“It depends how the season pans out in Mercedes and how Valtteri goes.
“Still, we haven’t lost any of our trust in Valtteri. We are 100% behind him because there is the trust within our drivers, because if we wouldn’t be behind him, we might as well make the change now. But we don’t.
“We think that he’s our man, and then obviously Esteban is in the starting blocks because he’s keen to drive that car.”
Bottas lost several chances of race victory to mechanical problems, unfortunate strategic timing and team orders in 2018, forced to play a backseat role to Hamilton in the Brit’s bid for a fifth world title against Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April saw Bottas retire with a right rear puncture when leading just three laps from the end. Additionally in Russia five months later, Bottas was asked to let Hamilton through when on course to take a second successive victory in Sochi.
Wolff understood that the season had a negative mental impact on Bottas but still believes that the 29-year-old can come back fighting in ’19.
“I think that for any driver it’s very difficult to overcome a situation where you need to back your teammate for a drivers’ championship,” he added.
“I think that is normal when you are taking away the single most important motivation for a racing driver, which is to be able to compete for a world championship. And I think we have seen that effect in Valtteri last year after Spa and this year after Monza. And he knows that.
“I think as long as he’s in the hunt for the championship. he’s going to drive at a very high level. He would have won in Sochi maybe.
“So on paper he should have had at least two or three wins this season.”