SKY F1’s Martin Brundle believes Mercedes face a challenge to prise Valtteri Bottas away from Williams with Pascal Wehrlein still a likely occupant of the prized 2017 seat.
Sky Sports understands Williams have rebuffed Mercedes’ initial approach for Bottas with the Grove outfit determined to keep hold of their established team leader.
But were Mercedes to succeed in luring Bottas away to replace the newly-retired Nico Rosberg, Williams would then be faced with their own 11th-hour quandary ahead of a season in which the sport’s aerodynamic rules are being drastically overhauled and driver experience is set to be a valuable asset.
Brundle says a Mercedes move for Bottas makes sense for them, but believes the 27-year-old nine-time podium finisher is also particularly valuable to Williams given the inexperience of the Finn’s 2017 teammate.
“Next year is going to be one of massive development and new aerodynamic regulations that seem almost endless in opportunity,” the former driver and Sky F1 pundit told Sky Sports News HQ.
“You need a fully-experienced driver, and ideally two of them, to max out every weekend. We are probably going to see the biggest amount of car development we’ve ever seen in a season from the big teams and that is why they’d prefer to have a driver like Bottas who is not going to be learning the ropes and is going to give more feedback.
“But, of course, Williams need that even more because their other driver in Lance Stroll is a complete rookie, we don’t know how he is going to go yet. He hasn’t done GP2, he’s not really been doing too much on these Pirelli tyres, so Williams need to keep hold of Bottas.
“I can’t see any other option in the end than Mercedes putting Wehrlein in the car.”
The unexpected nature of Rosberg’s decision to quit F1 has left Mercedes in a “very difficult situation” according to Brundle with all other experienced drivers currently signed up to other teams for 2017.
“They’ve got their own driver program, of course, with Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, who they put into Force India, and you’d think they’d automatically go to that junior line-up,” he added.
“But they need somebody alongside Hamilton who can score victories, can score lots of world championship points and maybe take the championship itself.”
VERSTAPPEN’S NEW RECORD
Max Verstappen completed the most overtakes in an F1 season for the second year running in 2016, setting a new record in the process.
Verstappen’s 78 overtakes over the course of the 21-race campaign — as calculated by F1 tyre supplier Pirelli — is the highest value recorded since the data was first made available more than 30 years ago.
The teenager, whose dream 2016 included a first F1 win on his debut for Red Bull following a mid-season promotion, completed 18 overtakes for Toro Rosso and 60 for Red Bull — averaging 3.7 per race.
Unsurprisingly, Red Bull made more overtakes stick than any other team, with Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo finishing with 61 and Daniil Kvyat, who was replaced four races into the campaign, had 15.
Overtaking as a whole was on the up in 2016, too, with 866 moves completed over the season at an average of 41.2 per race. That compares to 509 last year and 636 in 2014, though there were less races and cars in both those seasons.
Pirelli claim that overtakes are only counted if they take place “during complete flying laps (so not on the opening lap) and maintained all the way to the lap’s finish line”, and that “position changes due to major mechanical problems or lapping/unlapping are not counted”.
In other statistics released, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was remarkably passed only once throughout the campaign, and that was by Verstappen in a Brazilian GP which produced the most overtakes for a wet race with 68.
It was the Chinese GP which had the highest number of overtaking manoeuvres in the dry with 128, and Lewis Hamilton’s 18 passes in Shanghai were the most recorded in a single race. The Brit rose from 22nd on the grid to finish seventh.
Mercedes enjoyed another dominant season, winning 19 of the 21 races, and were indeed the team who were overtaken the least. World champion Nico Rosberg was passed four times, and Hamilton three.
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, was the driver who made up most places on the opening lap having gained 41 positions off the grid for McLaren.
Other records broken during the 2016 season included Valtteri Bottas setting the highest speed on a Pirelli tyre in an official F1 session, having reached 372.5km/h at the Mexican GP.