Analysis: Why All roads lead to Williams F1
Mercedes
Toto Wolff, Claire Williams
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 Dec 2016   |  9:30 pm GMT  |  333 comments

Imagine you are in charge of the Williams F1 team. You are closely aligned with Mercedes through an engine partnership that has revitalised your team, but also because Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff is an ex-shareholder and mentor to Claire Williams.

With the retirement of veteran Felipe Massa your lead driver going forward is Valtteri Bottas, who comprehensively outqualified the Brazilian last year and outscored him in points too.

A disappointing car meant that the team dropped down to fifth in the constructors’ championship this season, falling behind Force India and some way off Red Bull and Ferrari, whom you beat in 2014.

With an 18 year old rookie coming in next season, you cannot really afford to slip further and with McLaren Honda and Renault both likely to make significant improvements next season, there is a risk of finishing sixth or even seventh in the championship if you don’t have your lead driver racking up over 100 points.

Wolff, Williams F1

Now Mercedes wants your lead driver to replace the world champion at short notice.

They might be able to offer you £10m off the engine bill, or a buy-out for the driver plus an engine discount; it’s all a negotiation. But you’ll certainly be dropping quite a bit of prize money and bonus money from sponsors if you wind up seventh in the Constructors’ championship in 2017 and then what about 2018? This cannot be allowed to become a slippery slope.

You are already looking around for a replacement for Pat Symonds as technical director, someone who is younger but also a good technical organiser. The F1 paddock has the impression, as the season comes to an end, that James Key will be on his way to Williams at the end of 2017.

But if Paddy Lowe is available straight way at the start of 2017, perhaps to take on a more senior management role, to shore up the technical side and set in place some directions for the future, especially with the financial clout that the Stroll family and related sponsors can bring to the team, does that offset some of the pain of losing Bottas to Mercedes? It does if you can replace the Finn with someone who will score points.

But the reality is stark: looking around for his replacement, you are looking at the same list of second tier drivers that Mercedes is contemplating, if it were not to disrupt another team by poaching its driver: Nasr, Wehrlein are front of mind and known quantities. Both would prefer a Williams seat to a Sauber, which is their other option.

You can’t take another rookie alongside Stroll, so your options are really limited.

Jenson Button has said that Abu Dhabi 2016 was probably his last race because he’s had enough of making up the numbers. He’d probably drive another year if he could sit in a Mercedes, but it doesn’t look like Mercedes is thinking that way. As Williams you know that he’s not likely to change his mind in order to potentially be beaten by the McLaren he’s just stepped out of.

Your sponsors too will have a say in all of this, of course. Martini isn’t crazy about the idea of two young drivers as the marketing codes don’t encourage them to use under 21s to promote alcohol products.

Valtteri Bottas

All roads lead to Williams at the moment. Bottas is the right driver to sit alongside Lewis Hamilton on a two year contract, which takes Mercedes to the end of Hamilton’s current deal and buys them time to find his replacement if he is shaping up to retire. And if he plans to stay, you’ve weathered the shock of the Rosberg announcement and you have a strong hand going forward.

Bottas is fast enough to qualify up the front and race the Red Bulls and Ferraris hard; he’ll score enough points to give them a decent chance in the Constructors’ Championship.

But in F1 you are either giving pain or taking it, so if you were boss of Williams at the moment, what would you do?

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1

The Button to Mercedes idea is an obvious one, I thought it immediately, but McLaren had a two,year contract with him, he’s also the reserve drive, then McLaren stated neither Button or Alonso were up for grabs at any cost, so not a prayer, maybe if there was a chance Mercedes did want Alonso McLaren would let them have Button on a 2 year deal, to prevent it, but I doubt they do want him, also, Alonso is patching over the one blemish in his CV which was McLaren 2007, so he would never leave the 3 year contract earlier, unless McLaren wanted to sell him, so they can afford the bigger turbo’s they need!
I can’t see anyone but Bottas alongside Hamilton in the Mercedes in 2017.
As for Williams not wanting to take a step back, what on earth do they think dragging Massa back is? If he was so valuable they would have sold Bottas beforehand and kept the Brazilian.
They can’t have Button, for tue same reason Mercedes can’t and also because Button would have no desire to drive a slow Williams, when he’s getting paid by McLaren for 2 years to spend time with his playboy girlfriend, even I’d forget an F1 drive for that!
Maldonado is loitering around and would probably jump at Williams, but he left there frustrated and they seemed happy with the separation, not least as PDVSA still had to pay them. But despite his reputation for crashing, he’s a likeable man, passionate about winning and fast, also a race winner when they gave him a capable car.
Failing that, why don’t Williams do what they used to, pluck out a driver from elsewhere, Frank was great at it, remember Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenburg.
Why not do it again, Mercedes are covering the bills after taking Bottas, Strolls dad is covering even more bills, the accountant will tell them to start spending soon, so if they dont take Pastor back why not drag Freedie Hunt over to Oxford and stop him tooling around in LMP2?

2

Make an approach, at the ideal time, when he’s just realized what he’s done wrong by retiring with a wife & new born at home all day… He’ll be so desperate to get back into the saddle & drive that he may even pay you for the seat!

3

I would let Botas go and ask Mercedes for 3 things in return:
1. Paddy Lowe
2. Sergio Pérez (who is in a contract but which I am sure Mercedes can nudge him Force india into releasing him),
3. A hefty engine discount based on the amount of points Bottas scores: the more points he scores, the lower the price of the engines.

I LOVE this website!!! Go James and team GO!
Cesar

4

Mercedes should buy JEV from Ferrari, he was comparable to Ricciardo when they were paired together and is a wasted talent imho.

5

Has that pic at the top been photo shopped? Or is it an accurate depiction of the glamorous world of F, where high powered meetings are held round the back, near the wheelie bins?

6

Motorsport paddocks are littered with bins.

7
Søren Christensen

Some of you guys seem to have not read the given task properly:
Again: The question is. If you were Boss at Williams, what would you do?
Instead quite many are offering the usual, more or less rubbish, suggestion to who MB should hire as their new driver….
Well, if nothing else, the question shows how extremely difficult it is to be the manager of an F1 team these days…
What would I do?
Sell Bottas in exchange for a lot of money + a Paddy Lowe + a huge engine discount – and hire Paul di Resta as the new lead driver on a 1 year contract + maybe a Nasr as 3. driver.
This solution should be acceptable, both to sponsors and the Stroll family

8

I’d sell Bottas and promise Alonso a race-winning car in two years.

9

Got to say it, NR has well and truly dropped Merc in it from 40,000 ft.
Is he in breach of contract for what he has done?
Love to be a fly on the wall when Lewis finds out he is getting Bottas as a second driver. Poor Valteri is gunna get a very focuses Lewis Hammy in the sister Merc. God help him.

10

Vergne? Di Resta? Algersuari?

11

Juan Pablo Montoya!!

12

If Merc wants Bottas, they should do the replacement bit themselves. So if I were Williams, I’d say get me Sainz plus 5M deduction on engine and I’ll give Bottas. What it would cost Merc to lure Sainz away from TR wouldnt be Williams’ problem.

Since Lowe’s contract ends, this should be kept as a different issue from the driver swap but I dont know about the gardening leave clause. If that happens, why not try Allison yourself. I think they tried and got rejected but might go for it again, the F1 scene is much different than what it was a few weeks ago.

All in all, Williams have just resurfaced from a vicious circle. Less success, less sponsorship so less success so less sponsorship and so on. Why go the same way again just to get 10M sale on engine price where having a good no1 driver will make up for muh more cash.

13

If Mercedes dominantes again, It’s going to be a BORING F1!!!!

14

Bottas isn’t all that. Massa after that incindent in Hungary was just a mediocre racer. Before that he was top tier, but he lost something in that incident.
So, if I was in Claire’s skin, I would go for the deal.
2017 will be about accurate feedback and precise development. We can expect Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull brute-forcing results on money. The rest of the pack must gather key people to make things right.
There is Button, Webber dying to return… and experienced (and winning) people outside F1. Buemi, as he is known for be a great car developer and have accurate feedback (I really can’t understand why Renault did not bring him back, and they went with Hulkenberg). Di Grassi, which is also a really talented driver (I am a Brazilian, so I would love to see him back in F1, again).
If Claire wants to give a shot with the guys available in the grid, there is Nasr and Wehrlein. Nasr, I dare to say, is better than Bottas and can arive with some sponsorship cash. Wehrlein is a clearly talented kid that could come with a sweet deal with Mercedes. Sainz appears to be locked with Red Bull.

15

I would like to see Button have his swansong in a strong title contending Merc. However, it looks like it will be Bottas partnering LH. Looking at what is available then I would take a punt on Pierre Gasly – Toro Rosso took in Sainz & Verstappen as rookie’s. They have progressed to be arguably the two quickest drivers under 25 in the field. If Williams harbor aspirations of building for the future taking a punt on repeating a similar success with two rookies is worthwhile, especially considering the deadwood being mentioned in Maldonado, DiResta etc. Build a team around two ambitious ultra competitive rookies, surly can’t be worse that the retiring Massa and disillusioned Bottas of this year.

16

Keep Bottas for another couple of years and rebuff Mercedes.

If Mercedes don’t like it and threaten to cut the engine supply no need to worry as both Renault and Honda will be there and more than happy to partner, plus their engines will be just as competent by then.

Utilise the Stroll money to improve the team, car and financial setup with further sponsors. In 2 years if Bottas wants to move on the time will be right for WDC challengers like Sainz and maybe Perez.

Do not buckle to Mercedes influence for a short-term handout on engine fees but potentially crippling instability.

17

Promote di Resta to a race seat for 2017, start making overtures to Carlos Sainz for 2018.

18

Seriously though, Mercedes should just go full Hollywood and put Valentino Rossi in the car. He could distract the media from Lewis’s instagram indiscretions, and generate enormous public and sponsor interest while not in any way threatening Lewis’s status on track.

19

What about Nick Heidfeld? No-one has mentioned him. Which I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about since the same was true during his entire career in F1.

20

I would be very interested in finding out which options from outside f1 Mercedes are considering (if any). With Audi quitting the WEC wouldn’t the likes of Andre Lotterer be interesting? They can’t all find a new drive at Porsche…

21

Take the money take Paddy Lowe and Get Button back !

22

Excellent piece, James! This is the stuff we keep coming for to this website.
(Reminds me the “You’re the main character book” that I read as a child, in which you had to choose a course of action every two pages or so, and thus had to make your own story)

23

If rosberg leaving Mercedes is not a joke and williams not allowing bottas to leave give a chance to Massa for 1 year and than try to get Sainz on 2018 bottas outshined massa but one of the reason was he faced more Dnf than bottas also he shold be losing motivation after announcing his retirement for one year he can give the team support to get regular points and he is a team player we all know that

24

Montoya!

25

Call up JPM – dead serious

26

But would he fit?

27

It’s ok the cars are wider for next year

28

TBH, without a competitive chassis then it doesn’t really matter who is driving for Williams next season.. they will continue to struggle. That is why it may be a tragedy if Bottas doesn’t move on and is wastes away another valuable year. Williams must surely understand that a seat in a WCC/WDC-winning car doesn’t just come along every day and if Bottas has his heart set elsewhere then he is unlikely to deliver 100% of what he is capable of by being kept. Bottas himself needs to be a bit selfish here and push to make a move happen. He is unlikely to get as good a chance to move up the grid ever again.

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