I must admit I am amused and intrigued, at the same time, by the hullabaloo surrounding who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes and from where I stand there are three options that Mercedes chief Toto Wolff is faced with:
- The Good Option
- The Bad Option
- The Ugly Option
First I must point out that what we expected to be a quiet end to the season, our days filled with stories about Nico winning the title, Lewis sulking, Ferrari talking the talk (as they do every off-season) and Max scooping every award other than the World Champion trophy.
Alas no rest for the wicked as Nico drops the bomb and launches a whole new angle for the off-season, which Mercedes are milking. They won the title and now the hottest topic in sport is who will replace the recently crowned F1 World Champion. Even CNN is reporting about it. You cannot buy that kind of publicity, it’s priceless and Toto knows it – so of course he will run with it until there is no more steam.
The Ugly Option
Of course this would be to pay-off millions to McLaren so they release Fernando to join Lewis in the team. Just writing that sentence is ludicrous. If Toto thought managing Nico and Lewis was tough, he surely would not survive a Fernando versus Lewis civil war.
And there will be nothing civil about it as the two master politicians thrash it out for preferred status within the Silver Arrows camp. There is simply no room for two massive alpha male personas in a single pit garage. McLaren in 2007, when the duo were infamously paired together, will be Mickey Mouse in comparison. The two lads are now big cunning men.
Of course Toto will say he is considering the Matador, it’s the sound bite we all want to hear. Let’s be honest Lewis and Fernando in the Silver Arrows next year would be blockbuster stuff which all fans would relish.
But Toto is too shrewd to make such a scenario reality and has already got an escape clause by indicating that he will not interfere with contracted drivers. According to McLaren, Fernando is signed up to the hilt and it’s water-tight.
The Bad Option
Valtteri Bottas. Now that is a distinct possibility according to more than one of my sources. Toto has always rated the Finn and managed him through his junior ranks into Formula 1 with Williams. Granted he is deserving of a shot with a big team and many believe he was being groomed for a Silver Arrows drive in 2018 or 2019.
Now that Nico has left the building, the option of Valtteri being reigned in is quite attractive but there are two stumbling blocks. The first is that Toto does not want to disrupt Williams who need Bottas to spearhead their campaign in 2018, as their rookie Lance Stroll will be thrust into the deep end and will need mentoring of sorts from an experienced driver.
After all Lawrence Stroll has thrown a great deal of money the way of Williams and for sure he will have had some guarantees regarding who will partner his son. In a nutshell I would not discount Valtteri.
But in my opinion that would be boring because I just don’t rate the chap, I always find myself asking how good he really is… maybe I will be proven wrong.
The Good Option
In my book Pascal Wehrlein is the right man for the job. He is the most logical and sane choice for Toto to make, as he would be promoting a driver who has been groomed through an extensive (and expensive) junior programme run by Mercedes.
For sure it’s going to take balls for Toto to put the kid in the most coveted car in Formula 1, but that’s what shrewd management is about, taking a risk.
Helmut Marko put his reputation on the line when he made the call to promote Max Verstappen to the senior Red Bull team, they are now reaping the rewards big time.
A decade ago it took plenty guts for Ron Dennis to promote Lewis to Formula 1 alongside Fernando. But Lewis rose to the occasion, seized the moment and nearly became World Champion in his rookie year. The following year he did it.
I see parallels with Pascal and Lewis – think about it.
Promote the German so that he joins a multiple World Champion and will have to prove himself in the season ahead. If he manages to mix it with Lewis then Toto and his clan have unearthed a gem, if not then so be it and move on.
Gerhard Berger sums up my sentiment, “Pascal Wehrlein is the ideal candidate. In truth, he is the only logical candidate. The boy is good, so this is a perfect moment to give him a chance. The Mercedes junior programme was designed specifically for this.”
Right now I am quite sure no one really knows who will get the seat, maybe not even Toto or Niki. The latter wants an experienced driver in the second cockpit, while Toto has said he would prefer Pascal spent another season with a small team. Smoke and mirrors if you ask me.
When sanity prevails eventually and they do the maths, Pascal will be the best choice and by far the most cost effective option in my opinion.
Inside Line Opinion by Paul Velasco