Win on Sunday retire on Friday. Nico Rosberg leaves a large void in the sport
(Photo from: www.thesun.co.uk)
Following his maiden title win on Sunday, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from Formula 1 on Friday, a decision that has shocked the motorsport world. However his announcement has sparked one of the most fascinating battles for one of the most competitive seats in the sport. But who should Mercedes pick to replace the reigning World Champion? Let’s go through the Silver Arrow’s options.
One man who must want the drive is Fernando Alonso, a driver who craves a third world title. The McLaren driver, who is into the final season of a three year contract, would relish the chance to join the reigning champions, however he must be wary of Hamilton, who he partnered in 2007 during his first spell with McLaren.
Mercedes will know that the duo did not enjoy a good relationship as teammates during Hamilton’s debut season, with the pair squabbling throughout and eventually costing each other the 2007 crown. To have two drivers of World Championship quality must be hugely appealing for Mercedes though it may not be possible to buy the Spaniard out of his McLaren contract, furthermore, would they be willing to risk having him and Hamilton partnered once more?
Another driver whose name has been mentioned is Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Tensions between Vettel and those at the top of Ferrari have begun to appear, as his relationship with Maurizio Arrivabene has slowly deteriorated, following the Ferrari Team Principal’s comments explaining Vettel would have to earn a new contract beyond 2017.
Additionally it has been reported that Vettel was unhappy with the departure of technical chief James Allison. All this has sparked rumours that Vettel may seek a move away, which could explain his dip in form in the second half of last season.
Mercedes would surely relish the chance to have the German in their team however like Alonso, they may be hesitant to put two drivers of the caliber of Hamilton and Vettel together in the same team, as neither would settle for being number 2 driver. Although the duo have a huge amount of respect for each other, and would surely push each other, risks would surely arise.
One other stumbling block may be Vettel’s salary. It has been reported that the German is on $27 million a year at Ferrari and with Hamilton already on $33 million a year, would Mercedes be willing to spend at least $50 million a year on driver salaries alone? Furthermore would Ferrari be willing to let the German go a year early, with no obvious replacement available?
Another high caliber name who may be considered by Mercedes is Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian has impressed hugely since his debut season with Red Bull in 2014 and has shone this season, outscoring Verstappen comfortably since being partnered in Spain. However 2016 has not been simple for Ricciardo who feels he could have won Spain, if it was not for strategic error and was in the frame for a Monaco victory but for more errors from the Red Bull pit wall.
However since then, Ricciardo has signed a deal with the team until 2018 and his relationship with those at the top has improved. It is known that Toto Wolff is a large admirer of the Australian and would be less of a handful than either Alonso or Vettel, judging on his laid back personality, but whether it is possible for Mercedes to buy him out of a lengthy contract with Red Bull is unknown. Similar to Alonso and Vettel ahead of him, he may be out of Mercedes’ price range.
Onto a much more realistic option now, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. Bottas has just signed a contract extension with his current employers, a deal which has reportedly heavily increased his salary with the team which may be a reason Williams would want to offload the Finn. This may be a bargaining tool for Mercedes, with the knowledge that they could get Williams, who are known for not being the most wealthy team on the grid, out of an expensive one year contract.
In addition to this, Bottas would have to be bought out of this deal, which may be helped as Toto Wolff is part of Bottas’ management team and has been an admirer for some time now. It is certain that Mercedes could put a tempting offer on the table for Williams.
However with 18 year old rookie Lance Stroll as their number two driver, will William allow Bottas to leave, with only inexperienced, although very quick, drivers available? Pascal Wehrlein and Felipe Nasr would be the obvious choices for Bottas, if he was to leave for the Silver Arrows.
An obvious choice would be Pascal Wehrlein. The 22 year old German is a Mercedes junior driver and impressed hugely in his debut season with Manor in 2016, scoring points at Austria a high for the 2015 DTM Champion.
Not only is Wehrlein a junior Mercedes driver, he is also their reserve driver and has tested for the team on multiple occasions. It would be a risk to put him in a title winning car, given the fact he only has one years experience however it may be a risk worth taking.
The final realistic option Mercedes has is Esteban Ocon, their other junior driver. Ocon impressed in the second half of the season after being paired with Wehrlein at Manor following Haryanto’s budget issues and went on to secure a driver with Force India for 2017, being favoured over Wehrlein.
Although Ocon’s talent is not being questioned, his experience may be as he only has half a season of Formula 1 racing under his belt, which surely is not enough for the reining three times champions. Maybe this opportunity has come a season too soon for the young Frenchman.