The announcement of Valtteri Bottas’s move to Mercedes is entirely predictable. Ever since the Finn was sighted in Brackley having a decidedly silver seat fitting, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to join the dots.
In fact, for such an extraordinary set of circumstances, Formula One has managed to make this whole affair feel dull and uninspired. Of course, Williams bringing back the recently-retired Felipe Massa to fill the void didn’t help. Yes, it was the correct choice, but boy was it a boring one.
Nevertheless, with a little imagination and creative license, it is simple to predict just how much hand-wringing Rosberg’s decision has caused. The grid could look very different indeed come 2018…
Hamilton, now the undisputed kingpin at Mercedes, is far from nailed-down. In fact, it is entirely plausible that, following a fourth title in 2017, he hangs up his helmet for good. With his great rival at Mercedes long gone, a formidable tally of wins, and the greatest number of pole positions in history within his designer-branded pocket, what more can he realistically achieve?
It is somehow a struggle to imagine him emulating Schumacher, and the pull from his L.A lifestyle appears stronger than ever. Far from wishing Rosberg to win any more plaudits as a brave family-man, will it be time to knock it on the head?
Wouldn’t it be a romantic thought to see Hamilton, by then an unarguable great, walk away a rockstar of the sport. Perhaps he will attempt to conquer Indy, in a manner similar to his spiritual forbear, Nigel Mansell? Or, more likely, defect to his musical friends stateside, and leave the small-minded paddock behind.
Sebastian Vettel would be an obvious replacement. Beyond his status as the most successful German bar-Schumacher, it is difficult to envisage his crumbling relationship with Ferrari repairing itself anytime soon.
The Scuderia, sinking deeper into a pit of internal politics and crushing expectation, is not likely to win the world championship within the next three years.
Vettel, who struck up a formidable partnership with (rumoured) Mercedes man James Allison whilst the two were at Ferrari, would relish the opportunity to return to the winners’ rostrum together. Bottas would prove an excellent foil, in much the same way that Raikkonen has at Ferrari.
So, who would come to Ferrari’s rescue? With Kimi most likely shuffling into retirement, it would be an entirely clean sheet at Maranello. This is where things could get far more interesting, and it revolves around Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will inevitably lock horns. If the Newey-penned RB13 gets within a sniff of the Mercedes, ructions will begin to form in Milton Keynes. Ricciardo, long awaiting a shot at the title, has done the groundwork, and moulded the team around him the hard way. This was Vettel’s chiefdom a few years ago, remember, but the Australian rapidly condemned him to years of political fairy light untangling at Ferrari.
Nevertheless, the stupefying rise of Verstappen has left Marko et al in a bit of a pickle. Do they throw their weight behind Ricciardo, but face losing the prodigious teenager, or alienate their team leader in favour of a sparkling but inexperienced youngster?
If the answer is the latter, then perhaps Daniel – of Italian descent – could attempt to achieve the fairy-tale phoenix act with Ferrari.
His team-mate? Well this is where it gets far harder to predict, but Grosjean has long deserved a move to a top team. His Haas connections might prove fruitful after all. I’d expect his seat to be taken by Leclerc or promising Italian Antonio Giovanazzi.
An alternative for Ferrari could be Pascal Werhlein. Mercedes’s dealings with the German over the winter was telling. I can’t see him promoted to a higher team anytime soon, so perhaps a stint as Ricciardo’s number two would be a promising alternative.
Williams is another interesting team to observe over the coming season. Massa will likely be back to sipping Pina Colada’s next January, so the Grove outfit would require a long term option. With a void at Red Bull, Sainz will surely be promoted, but he would otherwise prove a good fit if Sir Frank came calling…
This conjecture could go on and on, and at the end of the day it is purely that – a prediction.
It’s food for thought, though. Bottas’ appointment at Mercedes might be a little meagre, but it could potentially spark a stupefying game of musical chairs. Sounds mouth-watering, doesn’t it?