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When Nico Rosberg announced his immediate retirement from Formula One, it left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team with a conundrum: how to best fill the vacant seat alongside three-time champion Lewis Hamilton in order to defend the Constructors’ Championship?
Following six weeks of detailed evaluation, deliberation and negotiation, the team has signed Valtteri Bottas. The 27-year-old Finn has completed four seasons in Formula One with Williams, making 77 starts and scoring nine career podiums.
“Sometimes in life, unexpected circumstances provide interesting opportunities. Nico’s decision in December was a big surprise – certainly a challenging situation for the team to handle. But weathering the storm makes you more resilient and we see this as another opportunity for the team to grow,” said Toto Wolff in making the announcement.
Bottas is the fourth driver to race for the Silver Arrows in the modern era.“Valtteri is a no-nonsense guy: down to earth, straightforward and very focused. Pretty Finnish, to be honest, and a great fit for us,” said Wolff.
“He has an impressive track record in the junior categories and nine podiums in F1. But now it’s time for the next level, to see how he can step up to challenge for race wins and for championships.
“We know that we are already behind the curve in terms of preparations for the new season, so we’ve got a busy programme to get him integrated into the team.”
Bottas was cautiously optimistic. “It’s very exciting times for me,” he said. “I think it’s going to take a while to understand that this is really happening. It’s definitely another dream come true, to race in another team with such great history – especially in recent years, which have been so impressive.”
Bottas is no stranger to Mercedes power units. His first experience was in F3 in 2009 and, of course, he knows the F1 engine well from his three seasons with Williams. But he said there were a lot of new things to learn about the race car and also about the team’s operational procedures.
The scale of the challenge ahead cannot be underestimated. New aerodynamic regulations mean a reset for the entire field and there is genuine uncertainty about which team will come out on top – in Hamilton, Bottas is paired with probably the most ferociously fast team-mate in the sport and there are just 70 days until the red lights go out at the start of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
“We have confidence in Valtteri’s ability and it’s one of the reasons that he is the driver we set our sights on,” said Wolff. “The next weeks will be busy as we work to build relationships so Valtteri understands the team and the car.
“But that’s an exciting challenge that will bring us fresh energy and a new dynamic between the drivers. And, of course, we’re working hard to give Lewis and Valtteri the cars they need to do the job.”
Valtteri is under no illusions about the task ahead: “I’m ready to work hard, to prove myself to the team and to prove my skills. It’s going to be a challenging season and joining a new team makes it more work than normal. But I’m 100% ready for that.
“I’m training hard to be at my physical best because it will be much tougher with these new cars. I always set the bar really high, so my target is to perform from the first race. I’m full of energy and ready to get to work for this year and hopefully many more to come with Mercedes.”
The agreement for Bottas to join Mercedes has not happened in isolation. Pascal Wehrlein will join Sauber for 2017 and Felipe Massa, who announced his retirement at the end of last season, will return to Williams.
“On behalf of Mercedes, I must thank Williams for their cooperation in allowing Valtteri to make this move – and also Monisha and Sauber for their patience during the past weeks,” said Wolff.
“It’s been busy in the driver market and I am pleased to know that Pascal will be racing at Sauber to continue his development in F1. He had a good first season with Manor and we feel this is the right path for him in the sport.
“It’s satisfying to have both of our Young Drivers taking on new challenges in F1 this year, with Esteban Gutiérrez racing at Force India. We’ll be following their progress closely; I’m sure we’ve got an exciting season ahead of us.”
From Valtteri, too, there were warm words for his friends and colleagues at Williams: “I had a great seven years there, starting as a test driver in 2010. I’m very proud of what we achieved together and I leave with some very good memories.
“My debut in F1, my first points and nine podiums all came with the guys and girls at Grove, so I must say a big thanks to everyone and I wish them all the very best for the future.”
As Bottas begins a busy schedule of technical and physical preparations for the new season, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport has confirmed that Rosberg has accepted an ambassadorial role with the team for 2017.