Mercedes’ Bottas gamble, RIP Anthoine and WEC back with a bang
Mercedes gambling on Bottas?
In the build-up to the weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Mercedes confirmed they’d exercised an option to extend Valtteri Bottas’ contract – keeping him on board for 2020.
It’ll be the Finn’s fourth campaign with the hybrid era’s dominant force, where he has helped win them the Constructors’ Championship in every season so far.
Those three titles are without doubt the top line from his stint with the German outfit. The rest? It makes for less convincing reading.
Bottas has registered only five wins to team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s 28 in that time – even going the whole of 2018 without taking to the top step.
Hence, it begs the question: have Mercedes gambled on retaining him?
The argument has several strands to it. The most important of those in the team’s favour being, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The 30 year-old has played his part in those title wins, having gone quietly about his business, and is yet to upset Hamilton’s applecart – something Nico Rosberg managed in 2016, and Mercedes found impossible to manage.
Bottas is the ultimate team player. But what does the ’safe’ move say for the Mercedes image? More crucially, where do they stand if competitors Ferrari or Red Bull get it right next year?
The contract extension has an air of Kimi Räikkönen’s second spell at Ferrari about it. Continually well beaten by either Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel, the Italians continued to renew the Iceman’s deal by a year between 2014 and 2018 – comfortable in the knowledge he would not match his team-mate’s level of performance.
In that time, the prancing horse was never quick enough to get near a Constructors’ Championship, but they may well be in the near future. And that could become a problem for Merc.
Charles Leclerc’s continued rise alongside four-time title winner Vettel now surely means Ferrari boast a stronger collective driver duo than Mercedes. Should they deliver a competitive package in 2020, Bottas will be under greater pressure than ever before.
We can’t discount Red Bull, either. Max Verstappen and the promising Alexander Albon would certainly not fear going toe-to-toe with Hamilton and Bottas in equal machinery.
The ultimate take away from the news is that Mercedes must still have faith in their dominance of the grid. A closer challenge from outside may have yielded a different appointment as the number two driver – such as the highly-rated young Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
But for now, Bottas remains the man. Mercedes know what they are getting. Should large-scale regulation changes mix up the pack in 2021, however, and it could be time for a braver approach.
RIP Anthoine Hubert
Every now and again, motorsport conjures up incidents that put it all into perspective.
Last weekend, it was the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a crash during an F2 race.
Juan Manuel Correa – in the other car involved – also remains in intensive care, following leg fractures and a minor spinal injury.
The F1 world and beyond paid its tributes across the weekend, with maiden Grand Prix victor Leclerc unable to truly enjoy his moment.
These drivers dream big. It’s also a timely reminder that they risk everything to get there.
WEC returns with a bang
The FIA World Endurance Championship returned for its eighth season at a busy and expectant Silverstone at the weekend.
And those that flocked to Northamptonshire for its launch weren’t disappointed, as Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose-Maria Lopez took Toyota to victory amid periods of drama, rain and safety car involvement.
It proved an extra special afternoon for Briton Conway, who added a first victory on home soil to his nine WEC triumphs.
Four hours of racing were decided by a mere two seconds, as the trio of Kamui Kobayashi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima ran their fellow constructors agonisingly close.
An impressive attendance of 49,600 at Silverstone reflected the good health and growing appetite for WEC, as the championship now moves on to Fuji, Japan in October.