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.
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.
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?
Leave your comments in the section below