Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2019

Mercedes to decide on Bottas in August and may loan Ocon to rival

2020 F1 season

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Mercedes will decide whether to extend Valtteri Bottas’s contract for another season following the next two rounds of the championship.

Bottas, who joined the team in 2017, will be out of contract at the end of this year. The team announced a one-year extension on his previous contract in July last year, but team principal Toto Wolff said it was unusual for the team to make such an early decision.

“It is pretty unusual to announce drivers in July,” said Wolff in today’s FIA press conference. “If you want to take all the time you properly need to assess you can even drag it into the winter like we have seen in some other teams. Which was a standard in the past.

“For us it is not only about making the right decision for next year but looking ahead. This is why we agreed that we will take the decision in August and going forward, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we will announce it in August.”

If Bottas is confirmed for another season alongside Lewis Hamilton it will leave no room in the senior team for either of its leading junior drivers, Esteban Ocon and George Russell, to graduate.

However Wolff said he is prepared to help Ocon find a place with a rival team if needed.

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“We’re very happy with the development of Esteban and equally George. They are our most senior junior drivers and the aim is to make them ready for a seat in a Mercedes.

“As we all know it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out.

“From our perspective everyone knows about his driving capabilities for Mercedes, for ourselves. Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat.

“But equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team. He contributes a lot behind closed doors, he drives the sim overnight on race weekends, he comes in here on Saturday and gives us input and he is a great kid overall. So putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well.

“Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit. If it would mean that we were taking a decision in favour of Valtteri it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop [Ocon] and would mean we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban, and these are the consequences of that decision.”

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Dieter Rencken
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28 comments on “Mercedes to decide on Bottas in August and may loan Ocon to rival”

  1. It’s a tricky decision to make. Mercedes has a very professional setup at the moment, which extends to the drivers. Hamilton is clearly better than Bottas, but they complement each other nicely. In many ways, I suppose it depends what they want. There’s no two ways about it, Bottas is a number two driver to Hamilton. On a good day he’s competitive, but over a season he just can’t challenge him; but he can get close enough to secure 1-2’s and pick up wins on Hamilton’s bad days. He also doesn’t upset the apple cart.

    Ocon has previous for “naughtiness” with Perez (which I actually apportion more blame to Perez for) and would probably be less keen to play second fiddle to Hamilton. If I had to bet though, I’d say he’s likely better than Bottas.

    Were it my decision (and I’m glad it’s not), I’d take Ocon for next year. He’s far younger, has more potential and I personally think he’s already quicker than Bottas.

    1. I do hope he gets the seat

    2. Opposite decision is tricky too.

      Let’s suppose Russel will probably benefit from a year or two in proving ground (and hoping for a better Williams car) and is not in the scope of the debate for a year or two.

      I actually agree with you on choosing Ocon but for the sake of argument, let’s see what could go wrong :

      Ocon might not be that good nor reliably there to pick up the slack as Bottas manages to. Or he could destroy a race or two for Hamilton. He might upset Hamilton and precipitate his retirement (and Ham is worth a lot, as a driver and a billboard) wether by speed -not such a bad news for merc- or general team atmosphere -not so good-. And with this year’s car, we know Bottas could be world champion. Ocon might be but there is no certainty. Mercedes must bet their 2020 car will be there or thereabout and therefore have 2 drivers capable of being world champions and more than capable of ensuring WCC. Plus if Ham calls it quits in 2021, you’d probably rather have Bottas (with a proven Russel hoping in) onboard to hone that cmvery different car. So the argument for Bottas is strong.

      But then to me it still seems a waste. If Russel develops and either he or Ocon (or both) happen to genuinely develop in to Verstappen / Leclerc / Norris / Sainz contenders then having an aging Bottas (whom I don’t think is better than Riccardo or Hulk) instead does not look good long term wise. Hard decision indeed.

      1. Actually the more I think about this, the more I would like Bottas to continue one more year and have a battle between Russell and Ocon at Williams.

        Mercedes continue with known quantities and have the best possible test for their drivers while Williams improve their line up. A bit of competition between them can only push them forward.

      2. I’m not so sure more years in backmarker teams does any good to russell. Drivers in the past have proven that if you have the skills you can go directly to top team and perform at very high level. Russell is getting the job done at williams and he absolutely needs a step up in the next season. While I don’t think going to mercedes is bad for russell he needs to prove himself in the midfield because williams is in really poor shape at the moment and it is really difficult to tell how good job russell is actually doing.

        So in my mind from russell’s point of view getting that merc seat would be perfect. But from merc’s pov russell is somewhat unproven and unkown quantity (just look at gasly this year and last year). In the end merc needs the best driver it can get because they can afford it. They have the most wanted seats in f1 and they should never accept anything less than the best they can get. I don’t know if russell has done good enough job simply because the car russell has to drive is total junk. Ocon was not good enough against perez (who is under valued). I can’t imagine ocon beating hamilton if he did not beat perez. Bottas is doing fine job and if you are going to change you want an improvement. Not same skilled driver with different name.

        This dilemma also highlights one the big issues I have with these incredibly slow back marker teams like williams, marussia and caterham. They are (were) so bad that even if you get the best of the best driver into those cars and they blow their team mates totally away there is always that doubt about how good they are because the results were still poor. “Maybe they should do another year in midfield” is a thought that always comes up. Had they done their first year in the midfield they’d have much better chance moving up straight to a top team.

        Some things are certain though. Russell needs a team mate that can push him hard and he needs to be in better team. Ocon needs a seat but nobody will touch him as loaner driver. If ocon does well then mercedes will take him away. If ocon does poorly you have to keep him. Ideal solution for merc is to get both their drivers to team like haas for the next year. If one of them does really good job merc could take him. If neither of them really impress has can keep them both. Personally I’d take russell-ocon over magnussen-grosjean every day time. Whether ferrari likes that idea is another thing though.

    3. @ben-n Ocon is too tall, and I agree Lewis probably won’t approve Esteban’s signing.

      When Toto signed Bottas he surely didn’t expect him to bother Lewis. he has bothered Lewis but merc has managed it very well, bottas has followed team order scenarios dozens of times and has been shafted a couple of times as well and yet he seems ok with all. I can’t see any other driver willing to subject himself to driving for his team mate.

  2. I don’t see any team accepting an Ocon loan. Unless some drastic shakeups happen (vettel retiring, one of the Haas drivers dropped), I see him taking Kubica’s place in Williams.

    IMO Ocon should have ditched Mercedes last season and joined McLaren. I believe his connection with Mercedes is what prevented him.

  3. The smart and safe move for Mercedes is to keep Bottas, and the slightly bold move would be to take Ocon. But neither of those interest me. I’d like for the team to get a real competitive driver in that seat, but it happens so rarely that a team will pair actual championship competitors together.

    There is no incentive for Mercedes to drop Bottas at this point, imo. He is winning more than he would at any other team and they are safely winning with Hamilton. Ocon is okay but has never seemed like the next big thing that will take over when Hamilton does eventually retire. Fully expect HAM-BOT next year.

  4. Neil (@neilosjames)
    26th July 2019, 14:57

    I think Mercedes should just keep the same lineup. Bottas is up against one of the very best drivers on the grid and he’s doing as good a job as they could realistically expect. He’s challenging for and taking poles and wins, is part of a seemingly happy team environment and scores solid points every time with very few errors.

    Ocon is good but I’ve seen nothing to suggest he’s a next-level talent, and I don’t think he’s better than Bottas at this stage. If I had to pick the one I’d expect more points from in 2020, I’d go for Bottas.

    So there’s no incentive for change. Mercedes management aren’t ‘anti-Hamiltons’ or ‘variety seekers’… they’re not going to desperately keep trying different drivers because there’s a tiny chance the new one might be able to beat Hamilton.

  5. Ocon to Renault (French Driver in French constructors team, would be reality if Ricciardo hadn’t changed plans), Hulk to Haas and Grosjean out.

    1. Kubica and Gasly should leave F1 before Grosjean.

      1. I’d say Stroll and Kubica before Gasly (or Grosjean). It’s true Gasly isn’t doing great but who would next to VER?

        1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
          26th July 2019, 22:20

          Red Bull have only one ace and that is Max. I have trouble rating Albon at this early stage in his career, I wouldn’t dare put Kvyat back in that seat and Gasly has been terrible in terms of getting beaten by Max. I wish Red Bull would look outside of Toro Rosso next year but if Gasly keeps up his form I predict Kvyat will be back in a Red Bull, as much as I wouldn’t if I was the one making the call.

  6. Perfect No.2 is getting the boot?!

    1. Don’t know where you read that? Vettel is staying put. :)

  7. Ocon, no brainer.
    Bottas is a journeyman, no more, driving an unprecedentedly dominant car.
    Plus Ocon can ruffle Max’s feathers, with hilarious results.

    1. I’m no fan of the let them crash into each other, or let them run each other off the road, way of officiating races.

      but Red Bull has been a serious competitor this year, and it is quite likely they will be the rival to Mercedes next year. In that case you want Ocon to take as many points away from Max as possible and it get inside his head.

  8. Is that Kamikaze coming back in F1?

  9. MB (@muralibhats)
    26th July 2019, 17:31

    What wrong did pascal wehrlein do to not get same level of support from Toto?

    1. @muralibhats, it seems the answer to that is that his performance relative to Ericsson seems to have been considered to be a bit of a disappointment when the two were paired together at Sauber.

      Although their performance in qualifying was slightly in Wehrlein’s favour, the difference in outright pace between Wehrlein and Ericsson was within the potential difference in weight between the two – Ericsson reportedly having an 8-10kg weight disadvantage to Wehrlein.

      He did end up beating Ericsson in 7 out of the 11 races where they were both running to the end (though the number of laps he spent ahead of Ericsson was basically even with Ericsson, at 426 out of 858). Overall, it seems that Mercedes had expected Wehrlein to outperform Ericsson by a larger margin than he managed to achieve that season.

      The other possibility is that Mercedes might have been disappointed by the level of technical feedback that Wehrlein produced. What might support that hypothesis is that Ferrari did pick Wehrlein up as a simulator driver at the start of this year, but earlier this season it was confirmed that Ferrari had been recalling Giovinazzi back to Ferrari between races to work in their simulator – which perhaps suggests that Wehrlein, along with Hartley, have not been as effective as Giovinazzi was when it came to refining set ups and providing technical feedback in the simulator.

  10. Electroball76
    26th July 2019, 18:29

    Even though Ocon is the more senior of the senior junior drivers I think Merc have lost confidence in him and they are more likely to promote Russell (but on a Leclerc -esque “wingman only” contract). Maybe that explains the “future world champ” comments. Ocon could go to Williams as a trade.

    1. Max has raised the bar for the next generation. I’m not sure Ocon can reach near it. Leclerc and Norris seem the most promising rivals right now and Russell remains an unknown but potentially with them. So if Mercedes are looking for a Hamilton replacement, which they obviously will need in the next few years, Russell might be a better option. Or poach one of the others.

  11. I think the sensible thing for Merc to do would be put Ocon in the next to Hamilton and help Bottas find another drive, Haas seems very possible. That will give Merc a very potent combination and a clear path to continue winning when Hamilton moves on, Russel for 2021 seems like a good choice.

  12. Straight swap with Kubica? Bottas back at Williams nice and cosy and Robert back into a dominant car to suit his talents.

  13. Silicon.Dock
    27th July 2019, 6:38

    Ricciardo to Mercedes, Bottas to Renault, Ocon and Russell to Haas. Williams can have the Grosjean and Magnusen kamikazes. Kubica as reserve/sim driver.

  14. I truly believe Mercedes will put Bottas in the car for next season, and only for this reason….Verstappen.

    We don’t know how long Hamilton will remain with Mercedes. Mercedes wants to make sure they’ve got the next big thing in their team for the upcoming years….and there is only 1 man for that job..Verstappen.

    No Ocon nor Russel nor any other youngster, has the talent and speed Verstappen has. Verstappen’s contract will remain till the end of the 2020 season, but if Honda and RBR fail to deliver championship material to Max, Max will go to Mercedes for sure.

    2020 – Hamilton / Bottas
    2021 – Hamilton / Verstappen or Bottas / Verstappen and Hamilton off to Ferrari because the contract of Vettel ends aswell

  15. I truly believe Mercedes will put Bottas in the car for next season, and only for this reason, Verstappen.

    We don’t know how long Hamilton will remain with Mercedes. Mercedes wants to make sure they’ve got the next big thing in their team for the upcoming years and there is only 1 man that is picture perfect for that role, young Max

    Nor Ocon nor Russel nor any other youngster, has the talent and speed Verstappen has. Verstappen’s contract will remain till the end of the 2020 season, but if Honda and RBR fail to deliver championship material to Max, Max will go to Mercedes for sure.

    2020 – Hamilton / Bottas
    2021 – Hamilton / Verstappen or Bottas / Verstappen and Hamilton off to Ferrari because the contract of Vettel ends aswell

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