So that’s that, then. Nico Rosberg is gone, just like that. The 31-year-old is still alive, but F1 will miss him. Mercedes will miss him, given that he has been loyal to them for six seasons, and that he outraced a second-innings Michael Schumacher for two of them. But team chief Toto Wolff will be perversely relieved, given the friction between Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg over the last few seasons. Something had to give. And this bitterness may have accelerated Rosberg’s decision to quit once he achieved his dream. It may have convinced him that going through the trouble after the dream wasn’t worth it, especially by the side of the Brit superstar.
In any case, it’s not like Hamilton has had a happy-go-lucky relationship with ANY of his partners so far. Notoriously difficult to get along with off the track, and ruthless on it, the triple world champion is now back to being the no. 1 driver for the team – and it’s not the first time he’s had to fight for the position after the partner leaves.
Here are some drivers who’d complete the Mercedes driving team in the next season. “Teammate” is a broad term, though. But the question is – are Mercedes looking for a no. 2, or an equal to Hamilton? Do they want a ‘promising’ team-man or a fiery competitor? The latter seems to have worked for them well, given that they’ve won four constructors’ titles in a row with Rosberg and Hamilton. In the meantime, Wolff must definitely be tired of answering infinite phone calls from every driver in F1 right now:
The four-time World Champion won his last title in 2013, and he must definitely be missing the spotlight. He moved to his “childhood dream” team Ferrari, but has now fallen out with them over the long, difficult 2016 season. One also sensed that when he stood on the podium for 3rd in Abu Dhabi last week, he was perhaps waving goodbye to a lot of his core teammates. The German must be hungry to revisit those glory days, and Wolff will consider him at the top of the list, despite his contract with the Italian team running till the end of 2017.
The Aussie star is one of two shining lights at Red Bull – the other being his teenage teammate Max Verstappen. But it’s obvious that both of them can’t compete in the same team, because both are equally talented and future world champions. One of them, and it seems like it will be Ricciardo first, has to branch out and test his skills in a faster car. They’ve both done phenomenally well in the Renault, and perhaps they will want Verstappen to assume the responsibility of the no. 1 driver in a team before he makes his big move. Ricciardo is perhaps right now the “best of the rest,” and he will challenge Hamilton in an understated, un-bitter way that could expose the Brit’s whining tendencies in the most transparent way. Wolff may want this; conflict works well for his team, no matter what he claims. If Ricciardo outraces Hamilton, and there is every chance of this happening, it could just push Hamilton to behave himself in a less individualistic way.
The Manor racing driver, also the Mercedes reserve driver, is probably the favourite to replace Rosberg in 2017. The 22-year-old German is known to be as difficult as Hamilton though, and perhaps the team will want Hamilton to feel secure for a season by hiring a “lesser” driver. Imagine if Wehrlein steps up to the plate and hits a home run, though. That’ll be some story.
The Finn, another “ice man,” has been linked to Mercedes the most out of the “other” drivers. He has raced solidly for Williams in the last four years, but must be feeling the frustration of not being able to secure a faster car, given his abundance of temperament and talent. Four years is already three too many at an ailing team like Williams, and Bottas will do well to push for this inevitable and last-gasp deal at Mercedes. He needs it as much as they want him, and he could again be a perfect foil for Hamilton’s arrogance off and on the track. Also, he is no number 2.
Oh yes, look who it is! Alonso, who famously fell out with Hamilton back in 2007 in his first McLaren season, is back to his old team without the Brit. But he hasn’t won a title in 10 years – that’s a crime, and a long time for a driver as talented and skillful as the Spaniard. His is the case of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ after his two dream seasons with Renault back in 2005, and the man who dethroned Schumacher now needs a last volatile challenge to spur him onto the heights he was always destined to achieve. Three titles is greatness, and he deserves one more than his two. Also, the whole world will take notice if he comes back to join his old enemy – bumping up flagging F1 ratings and breathing new life into the concept of ‘rivalry’. The Rosberg spat will seem like a Disney movie compared to what Alonso may bring with him.