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Mercedes gives Valtteri Bottas 1-year contract extension

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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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”