Getty Images

Mercedes gives Valtteri Bottas 1-year contract extension

Leave a comment

HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Mercedes has given Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas only moderate backing by offering him a new one-year contract.

Although Bottas has the option for an extra year in 2020, the Finnish driver will have to prove he deserves it with strong performances in 2019.

Mercedes announced the deal on Friday, one day after Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton agreed to a contract through 2020. It ends mounting speculation over the short-term future of both of its drivers.

The deals were announced at the German Grand Prix with the F1 season reaching its halfway point, and with the usually-dominant Mercedes team under a bit of pressure. Hamilton trails leader Sebastian Vettel by eight points, while Vettel’s Ferrari team leads Mercedes in the constructors’ championship by 20. Ferrari has not won the constructors’ title since 2008, a year after its last drivers’ championship.

“We have a big battle on our hands right now, so it’s good to have the future clear for everybody. It means we can have a full focus on the championship fight,” said Bottas, who acknowledged he must keep proving himself. “My goal is to keep performing at a high level and to make it a no-brainer for the team when it comes to deciding their plans for 2020.”

The 28-year-old Bottas is in his second season with Mercedes. He moved from Williams on a one-year deal as an emergency replacement for German driver Nico Rosberg, who stunned Mercedes – and all of F1 – by retiring days after winning the 2016 title.

Bottas won three races in 2017, thus cementing another one-year deal for 2018. But he has yet to win after 10 races this season. He has finished second four times and is fifth overall, 59 points behind Hamilton and 67 adrift of Vettel.

While Hamilton endured a tense and sometimes bitter relationship with Rosberg, complete with finger-pointing and recriminations, he gets on very well with Bottas.

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff says this was an important factor, strengthening the view that Bottas is effectively a No. 2 driver behind Hamilton.

“When we took the decision in favor of Valtteri for 2019, it wasn’t just about his undoubted speed and work ethic, but also a question of character,” Wolff said. “His relationship with the team, including Lewis, is open and trusting, without any politics at all. Those are the ingredients you need when you’re fighting strong rivals in both championships.”

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
1 Comment

It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski