The Formula One merry go round is in full swing


Will I stay or will I go?

Keeping a secret in the world of Formula One is like trying to hide an elephant in an eggcup. It’s not happening is it? But this season there was an elephant in the room that only one man knew was there. Mr Rosberg.

Flushed with success of having vanquished his nemesis fair and square (it was fair and square wasn’t it?), Nico dropped his bombshell announcing he had decided to call it a day.

Now quitting while you’re ahead is never easy. There’s always that niggling question could I do it again? Add another to the tally?

The roll call of those who have retired, only to return as the siren song got too alluring is many. Most recently it was Nico’s first nemesis, Michael Schumacher. But that never came good for Michael. Having said that though, had he been able to hang on longer to see Mercedes really find its legs, what might have happened then?

Of course then there was the Mansell debacle. Having won the championship for Williams in ’92, he was dumped by Frank Williams so Nige then went off to the USA and won in his first season of Indycar. After another season, his love affair with the U.S. soured, he washed up on the shores of the UK and eventually managed to shoehorn himself into a McLaren. But that quickly ran its course and Nigel took his moustache into retirement (we won’t mention his somewhat ignominious outing in BTCC).

Nicki Lauda and Alain Prost are however our comeback kids par excellence. Both took sabbaticals and both returned to claim another world title. So it can be done. The question is will Nico?

Does he need the dosh? Nah. Does he want the angst of another head to head with Lewis? Apparently not. No, Nico it seems is more than happy to sit the next one out. But the one after? Question is will there be a place for him?

Well for sure there is no lack of young talent forging through the ranks and you do sense that there is something of a sea change starting to take place within the ranks of F1. Verstappen has proved it’s possible for a rookie to come to terms with F1 far faster than most thought possible. And there’s no doubt that young gladiators have the impetuosity and indestructable self belief that leads them to believe anything is possible, hence the audacious moves the Dutchman has made this season. And does it make for great entertainment? Of course it does!

So it does make you wonder whether the grandees of the grid like Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, and even Lewis, have got the burning desire to bang wheels weekend after weekend with a bunch of young upstarts.
Vettel has already expressed his feelings on the matter and if Mercedes don’t deliver another winner for Lewis next season, you wonder if he might hang up his helmet.

Then look at it from the teams point of view. Think how much they could save on their budgets? That little lot must amount to way in excess of £100 million per season.  And do they deliver the same raw excitement and therefore value for money that the young bucks can? F1 is criticised for many things, but above all is its ability to deliver exciting racing. Maybe a sea change is needed to up the ante?

Which brings us back to Nico. Or rather his vacant drive which must be the hottest seat in town. That’s where the merry go round gets really interesting.

By all accounts Valterie Bottas is the name in the frame. But at what cost to Mercedes?

Frank Williams has a well earned reputation for ruthlessness over the years when it comes to advancing the cause of his team (ask Nigel and Damon Hill). So you can well imagine the pound of flesh he would be looking for to release Bottas from his contract. But Toto Wolff, like his retiring protégé Nico, plays his cards close to his chest and of course being Bottas’s manager would have an inside track as to Valterie’s true intentions.

So while he played coy about wanting Bottas, no doubt hoping to call Frank’s bluff and reduce his demands, something of a stalemate seemed to be emerging.

But then maybe Frank saw his chance.

Paddy Low, Mercedes Technical Director, had been in talks with Ferrari and seemed on the verge of heading off to Maranello. But then Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne decided Paddy’s services were not needed. However Paddy’s talents could be just the thing to get Williams Team back on track (Frank having always placed his team’s aspirations above his driver’s).

So Paddy (and no doubt a pile of cash) goes to Williams, the combination of which Frank hopes will rejuvenate the team’s prospects.

Valterie heads off to the Silver Arrows which means there would be a conflict of interest if Toto remained his manager, so maybe Mercedes will give Toto a nice little sweetener. Of course that relationship will not haunt Hamilton’s head should next season not go well…

Meanwhile Massa, who thought he had joined the ranks of F1 retirees, ends up back at Williams almost before he’d even left.

Only in Formula One…and that’s why we can’t wait for the 26th March to roll around and for the fun to begin. As we’ve said before and will no doubt say again, watch this space.

Published on 31st December 2016