Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes future secure for F1 2021 as Toto Wolff rules out any mid-season driver switch
Toto Wolff tells Sky Sports F1 on Valtteri Bottas: "Unless he gets flu and can't drive, he's going to be in that car"; Bottas had been similarly emphatic on his future in Thursday's press conference in the wake of a report which had claimed the Finn's drive was under threat during 2021
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 08/05/21 10:46am
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has ruled out any prospect of dropping Valtteri Bottas during the course of the current 2021 Formula 1 season.
In Thursday's drivers' press conference ahead of the Spanish GP, Bottas had already dismissed a newspaper report from earlier this week which had suggested he could lose his seat during the season to George Russell.
His team boss was similarly emphatic on the matter on Friday.
Asked by Sky Sports F1's Jenson Button if he could categorically state that Bottas would be in the car for the whole 2021 season, Wolff replied: "Absolutely. Unless he gets flu and can't drive, he's going to be in that car.
"I see no reason to change. It's these guys over there [pointing towards Red Bull's motorhome] that like to play musical chairs, so no change expected."
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Bottas had also referenced Red Bull in his comments on the matter in the press conference. Mercedes' rivals made mid-season driver switches in 2016 and 2019.
Bottas joined Mercedes four years ago when Nico Rosberg unexpectedly retired from racing and has helped the Brackley team maintain their unbroken run of Constructors' Championships in the turbo-hybrid era as part of a harmonious partnership with Hamilton.
But he has yet to mount a season-long title challenge to his illustrious team-mate, with focus on the 31-year-old's Mercedes future beyond the end of his latest one-year contract ramping after Russell starred alongside him in a one-off appearance filling in for Hamilton at last December's Sakhir GP.
Russell races for Williams but is a Mercedes-backed driver and will inevitably be in strong contention for a seat at the world champions in 2022. Neither Bottas nor Hamilton yet have a contract for next season, although the latter strongly hinted last week that he wants to continue his record-breaking career into 2022.
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In three races this season, Bottas has yet to finish a race ahead of either Hamilton or Red Bull's Max Verstappen, although did outpace both in qualifying in Portugal last week to claim pole position.
Using an analogy to underline his loyalty to the Finnish driver, Wolff said: "If you are not happy with your wife and you start to already look for other ones, it's not going to improve the relationship. I try to work on the relationship with my driver and achieve the best result for him before I'm starting to flirt with someone else."
What did Bottas say on Thursday?
"I know that I'm not going to be replaced in the middle of the season," said Bottas when asked about the claim. "As a team, we don't do that.
"I have a contract for this year and I think there's only one team that does that kind of thing in F1, and we are not them. So no pressure from my side. I know how things are - there's always bull**** around. That's part of the sport."
Hamilton backed his long-time team-mate, saying that "people need to give him a break".
"From what I've experienced from the relationship with Valtteri, I think he's been an amazing team-mate," said the seven-time world champion
"And if I'm being honest, I think we have the best line-up currently in terms of deliverables and the general knowledge in terms of moving our car forwards.
"At some stage it's going to shift, it's going to change. I'm not going to be here forever, Valtteri won't be here forever - but right now I think we've delivered time and time again over the years and we continue to.
Wolff says Red Bull approached '100' Merc engine staff
Meanwhile, a relaxed Wolff suggested it was "pretty normal" that Red Bull's recruitment drive for their all-new engine division was leading them to hire Mercedes staff.
Red Bull are building the new facility on site at their Milton Keynes base, which is 30 miles from Mercedes' long-established and successful engine HQ in Brixworth in Northampton, and have already announced they have signed six people from their championship rivals.
"It's pretty obvious: if you want to set up an engine factory there is only one [already in the UK] and that's us," said Wolff.
"We have 900 or so employees there and if you are fishing out 15 of these or so, that's pretty normal. They went mainly after manufacturing staff so it's not really performance, I guess they want to build up up the company. But credit to the project, it's a Mount Everest to climb, and I'd like to have a fight with Red Bull power units."
Put to him that Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko had been quoted as claiming that Mercedes were offering to double the salaries of those who were being approached, Wolff said: "I think they have approached 100 people or so and they got 15, maybe. Doubling the salaries is one thing but if you triple them, at a certain stage you are not going to compete anymore, even for loyal people.
"But it is what it is. I respect everybody that wants to defend their business, or build their business, and retaliation time has not yet come."
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 earlier on during Friday in Spain, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: "There is an inevitability... we're based in the UK, we're only 30 miles off the road from Brixworth where Mercedes engines have chosen to build their engines in the UK. And they've done that for a reason, because the talent is within the UK.
"And for us, I think bringing the engines on-site within the campus, fully integrating it with the chassis so engine and chassis engineers working side by side with each other is tremendously appealing.
"We've been very flattered by the amount of approaches we've had. We're starting worth a clean sheet of paper and it's important to get the right people in the right positions. Obviously we've had quite a bit of success in attracting some fantastic talent, on top of the talent we will inherit from Honda when they depart at the end of the year."