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Mercedes confirms Valtteri Bottas in F1 race seat for 2018

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Valtteri Bottas will continue to race with Mercedes in Formula 1 next year after putting pen to paper on a contract extension beyond the end of the 2017 season.

Formally announced by Mercedes on Wednesday ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, Bottas’ confirmation has been expected for some time, with the finer details of his contract being sewn up recently.

Bottas joined Mercedes from Williams back in January following world champion Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement from F1, slotting in alongside Lewis Hamilton.

The Finn claimed his maiden grand prix victory in Russia before taking a second win in Austria, as well as scoring a further seven podium finishes this year.

While the contract extension comes as little surprise, Bottas was nevertheless delighted to make things official with Mercedes for 2018.

“I am honored and proud to continue to work with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport in 2018 and to remain part of the Mercedes family,” Bottas said.

“Together, we continue to grow stronger day by day, and by keeping up our hard work I believe the sky is the limit.

“Since joining the team in January, I’ve enjoyed every day working with them. The welcome and the support from every team member and all the fans has been invaluable.

“As a driver, I’ve been able to learn and grow massively, and we have already enjoyed some really good moments this season that I will never forget. I’ve been very impressed by the mentality, commitment and the team spirit this team holds. Partnering Lewis has also been really good, and I’m enjoying the respect we have and the will to push this team forward together.

“When the team hired me for the 2017 season, they took a leap of faith by putting their trust in my skills. This new contract for 2018 shows that I’ve earned that trust. I’m happy to have celebrated my first race wins in a Silver Arrow.

“However, there’s always room for improvement and I still have not shown my full potential. I will continue to work hard on and off the track, to further improve my driving, get even better results and show that putting their trust in me was the right decision.

“I want to thank all the board members, the people at the factories in Brackley and Brixworth as well as the race team and all the fans for their support and trust. It means a lot to me.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff added: “We gave Valtteri a big challenge this year: joining the team at the eleventh hour, stepping up to the forefront of F1 and pairing with the sport’s best driver as his teammate. With that in mind, his results have been probably even more impressive.

“There have been ups and downs – more ups, fewer downs – and some great highlights like his two race wins in Russian and Austria. Overall, the balance of his performances and his upward trajectory made it a no-brainer for us to continue with him into 2018.

“For our team, the bonus factors are the respect and sportsmanship that have grown between our two drivers. The chemistry and dynamic between Valtteri and Lewis work and are what we need to take the fight to our competitors.”

The news marks another added piece of the driver market puzzle for 2018, as well as fuelling the fire for a hectic 2019 silly season when both Mercedes seats will be up for grabs.

Ocon ‘needs a couple of years’ to be ready for Mercedes F1 seat

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Force India driver Esteban Ocon needs to spend “a couple of years” developing further down the Formula 1 grid before he is ready for a seat with Mercedes, according to team chief Toto Wolff.

Ocon, 20, is a member of Mercedes’ junior program, and made his F1 debut with Manor last year in Belgium before moving up to Force India for 2017.

Ocon has impressed through his opening eight races with Force India, scoring points in all but one race and recording a best finish of fifth place at the Spanish Grand Prix.

With Mercedes taking its time to decide upon Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond the end of this season, Ocon had seemed like a potential option to move up and join the world champion team for 2018 alongside Lewis Hamilton.

However, Wolff feels that the Frenchman needs to continue to make mistakes and find his feet in F1 before he will be ready to jump up to a top-line drive.

“He’s very impressive, but he needs a couple of years,” Wolff told NBCSN in Friday’s edition of Paddock Pass.

“He’s very young, 20 years old. We can’t afford to have a learning ground in a Mercedes.”

Wolff made reference to Ocon’s recent clashes with Force India teammate Sergio Perez, with the pair coming together in Baku two weeks ago in an incident that cost the team a possible podium finish.

“You need to have done it all, lost a couple of front wings at the starts and touched your teammate,” Wolff said.

“He has a bright future, but as it stands, experience is a very important factor for us.”

Wolff confirmed to NBCSN on Friday that Bottas had “done enough” to secure himself a seat with Mercedes for 2018, but that a final decision would not be taken until the summer.

Wolff: Bottas in ‘uncomfortable situation’ waiting on F1 future

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says he can appreciate that Valtteri Bottas is in an “uncomfortable situation” as he waits to hear about his future with the team beyond the end of the 2017 season.

Bottas joined Mercedes from Williams for 2017 following Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to retire after winning the F1 drivers’ title last November, freeing up a seat alongside Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas was signed on an initial one-year deal by Mercedes, and has impressed through his first seven races with the team, scoring his maiden victory in Russia at the end of April.

The Finn has proven popular among the team members at Brackley, as well as helping to ease some of the tension that emerged through the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry.

Mercedes is still yet to decide on whether Bottas will continue for 2018, though, with high-profile drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both out of contract and up for grabs.

“Of course it’s an uncomfortable situation for him with quite some pressure,” Wolff said during the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week.

“When we decided to make Valtteri the offer, he knew that we would be taking our time for the decision going forward because the driver market is more open in 2018 and beyond, 2018 and 2019, and he knew that.

“So that’s why we will not rush into a decision, but continue to work with him and see how that pans out. But generally the view of the team is that he’s done a good job.”

When asked if Bottas’ gamble to move to Mercedes from Williams could backfire and leave him without a seat next year, Wolff said: “He has taken a decision to leave Williams and join Mercedes in a one-year deal.

“I think that the perception of him as a racing driver has gained. He’s won a race rather than lost, so I think it already paid off.”

Hamilton praises Mercedes for ‘amazing job’ on W08 F1 car upgrades

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Lewis Hamilton was quick to praise Mercedes for the updates it has brought to its W08 Formula 1 car after dominating Friday practice in Spain, saying the team has done an “amazing job”.

Hamilton has been embroiled in a close fight with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel through the early part of the 2017 season, and currently trails the German by 13 points at the top of the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes arrived in Spain with a raft of updates for its W08 car in the hope of creating a gap to Ferrari, and appeared to do so in practice as Hamilton headed up a one-two finish for the Silver Arrows in both sessions.

“First practice was very, very good but in second practice the track changed and shifted quite a lot, so it was slippery and quite a lot slower for everyone, especially with the gusts of wind,” Hamilton said.

“It was massively challenging but still fun nonetheless. The team has done an amazing job with the upgrades and the car is working just as we expected.

“It’s been a much better start to the weekend for me than in Sochi, so I’m very happy. We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep working, we want to be number one.”

“It was a pretty good day for the team,” technical director James Allison added. “We have some new bits on the car for this weekend that we wanted to try out and ensure everything was working well with those and it seems like it is.

“At a track that can suffer from high tire degradation, we’re keen to ensure that our car is good on both the long-runs and the short-runs. We feel like we’re in better shape in that compared to winter testing.

“We’ve definitely made some progress and we’ll be in with a shout if we keep up the good work this weekend.”

Wolff: Hamilton-Rosberg F1 rivalry became too intense

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff feels that the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg became more intense than the team felt comfortable with towards the end of their partnership in 2016.

Hamilton and Rosberg teamed up in F1 at Mercedes in 2013, the pair having known each other for almost 20 years and raced together in go-karts as teammates.

Hamilton edged Rosberg to win world titles in 2014 and 2015, before Rosberg struck back with a maiden championship victory last year, announcing his retirement from racing just five days later.

The pair enjoyed a fierce rivalry throughout their time as teammates, featuring a number of on-track clashes before culminating in Hamilton defying team orders in a last-ditch effort to deny Rosberg the title in Abu Dhabi last November.

Speaking to The Guardian, Wolff lifted the lid on the partnership between Hamilton and Rosberg, saying that their history together added an extra dynamic to the rivalry that turned negative.

“Towards the end it was more intense than we would have thought beneficial,” Wolff said.

“What was beneficial at the beginning, that they knew each other for 20 years also meant towards the end that there was lots of baggage carried over and things we weren’t even aware of.”

Wolff said that Hamilton’s relationship with new teammate Valtteri Bottas “starts at zero” in 2017 as Mercedes looks to capture both F1 crowns for the fourth year in succession.

Hamilton’s future has been subject to comments from ex-F1 drivers Damon Hill and David Coulthard in recent weeks. Hill stressed that Mercedes must be willing to give the three-time world champion freedom or risk losing him. Coulthard even went as far to say that Hamilton could quit F1 altogether should he grow disillusioned with the sport.

However, Wolff said that he would rather have stressful drivers to manage that were among the best in the world as opposed to an easy ride and sub-standard racers.

“The best ones are all not easy. This makes them the best,” Wolff said.

“After four years we have got to know each other and we kind of get the vibes. We are on this journey together and most of our objectives are aligned most of the time but not always, and we recognize that.

“We respect him as an individual, we respect him as a personality and we respect him as a racing driver.”