What remained of the Formula One silly season dominoes fell on Monday, as Valtteri Bottas has been confirmed at Mercedes in place of Nico Rosberg.
2017 may be finally here, but the questions continued to swirl around Formula One teams and drivers. With the surprise retirement of Nico Rosberg following his championship season in 2016, a quiet silly season market suddenly hit a fever pitch. But on a Monday morning in January, three seats were finally confirmed for the coming F1 season.
With the seat at Mercedes AMG Petronas being one of the most coveted openings in recent years, many other openings would have to wait to be filled until that role was matched. Surprisingly, it was a move from another team that set things into motion. Sauber confirmed this morning the hiring of Pascal Wehrlein to replace Felipe Nasr at the team in 2017, which all but confirmed the next steps for Mercedes and Williams.
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Wehrlein, one of the developmental drivers for Mercedes who was considered for a role with the big team, was thought to be one of two finalists to be teammates with Lewis Hamilton. This meant Valtteri Bottas, formerly of Williams Martini Racing, would make the move to the German marque. This was later confirmed by a YouTube live stream of Bottas addressing workers at the team.
The acquisition of Bottas by Mercedes cements their top dog status for the 2017 season, and squarely places the pressure back on Lewis Hamilton. While it is expected that Bottas will contend for wins from the onset, the multi-time champion Hamilton will be the one anticipated to carry the team to another title. Of course, Bottas could surprise with an immediate run to a title, but only time will tell if that truly is a possibility.
Now, the final move made was one reported by Beyond the Flag some time ago. Felipe Massa will postpone his retirement and continue to race with Williams while mentoring rookie Lance Stroll. The question will now become how long Massa will stay with the team before officially retiring, and who could be his replacement.
The final puzzle piece to be solved for the 2017 F1 season is the ongoing saga surrounding the Manor F1 Team. Reports surfaced Monday that a buyer could be in place this week to take the team out of administration. However, if a solution is not agreed to or found by Friday, the team could disappear from the grid entirely.
Stay tuned to Beyond the Flag for continuing coverage of the Formula One offseason, leading into the 2017 season start in Australia this spring.