Bottas can leave if Massa returns

Valtteri Bottas at the drivers' vintage car parade before the Singapore race. He would be an acceptable team-mate for Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas at the drivers' vintage car parade before the Singapore race. He would be an acceptable team-mate for Hamilton.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Williams open to the Finn joining Mercedes if the Brazilian changes his mind on retirement

LONDON • The wheels are in motion to allow Valtteri Bottas to suit up for champions Mercedes next season, with Williams reportedly in "advanced talks" with the retired Felipe Massa to replace the Finn.

The outfit's deputy team principal Claire Williams told the BBC on Thursday that they would be open to Bottas joining the Silver Arrows, who are looking for a driver after world champion Nico Rosberg's shock retirement this month, if a suitable replacement can be found.

They still have some time yet as Mercedes will wait until the new year before making any announcement on Rosberg's replacement. But should Bottas, 27, get the nod, it would appear to be a palatable option for three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton has warned Mercedes against signing a big name like Fernando Alonso and revealed that the team must consult him on who should take the vacated seat.

"Basically, once they've dwindled it down to five drivers, or whatever it is, the shortlist, contractually they have to discuss with me," the Briton told Channel 4 television.

CHOOSE CAREFULLY

We've seen in other teams and times where it can be a poisonous effect on a team, the arch rivalry between drivers... I've had experiences with certain individuals in the past which I would strongly advise not in a team, to have that scenario.

LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes' three-time world champion, who had a famously testy relationship with former team-mates Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg, warning his team to pick Rosberg's replacement with caution.

"They can put any driver they want - bring Sebastian (Vettel), Fernando, bring whoever you really want. I drove against Fernando in my first year (at McLaren in 2007) and beat him (in the title race), so that's not a worry for me. I am happy to drive against any of them. But in terms of what is best for the team, probably not the best ideas."

Hamilton is the clear favourite to regain the drivers' title next year but remains interested in who his new team-mate will be.

"I don't have a say who it is. I recently (saw) comments online saying, 'Lewis doesn't care who his team-mate is', which is a little bit out of context," added the 31-year-old Briton.

"It is important who we have in the second car - important for team morale. We've seen in other teams and times where it can be a poisonous effect on a team, the arch rivalry between drivers...

"I've had experiences with certain individuals in the past which I would strongly advise not in a team, to have that scenario. But what I meant is I will drive against any single driver you want."

Rosberg bowed out five days after securing his maiden championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Massa, 35, also made his Formula One swan-song. But according to L'Equipe, Williams are hoping the Brazilian will make a retirement U-turn and return to the team where he spent the last three seasons of his 14-year F1 career.

This follows a BBC report that Williams - whose machines are powered by Mercedes engines - will be handed a €10 million (S$15.1 million) discount on their power unit supply by the German manufacturer if they allow Bottas to join Mercedes.

While the teams have close ties, Williams insisted that any decision they make will be motivated by the desire to improve the British outfit.

"Any changes would be made only if Williams remain in a strong position to compete and develop in 2017," she told the BBC in the first open recognition by either side that a deal could be done.

"If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would only do this if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as someone like Felipe Massa, for example."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Bottas can leave if Massa returns'. Print Edition | Subscribe