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Analysis: Which way are Mercedes F1 bosses leaning in search for Rosberg replacement driver?

All anyone can talk about in F1 at the moment is the vacant Mercedes seat.

Analysis: Which way are Mercedes F1 bosses leaning in search for Rosberg replacement driver?

All anyone can talk about in F1 at the moment is the vacant Mercedes seat. It is such an unusual situation for a top seat to suddenly be open in December; it's been a year of unpredictable events in politics, sport and other areas, this is yet another intrigue to add to the list.

At the Autosport Awards on Sunday night and again at the BRDC Awards on Monday - both of which were attended by world champion Nico Rosberg as well as Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe - the talk was all of Wehrlein or Alonso, Vettel or Bottas?

Here is our analysis of the situation and the thought processes for Mercedes as things stand.

Lowe, Wolff, Lauda

A top team caught on the hop

There is no doubt that Nico Rosberg's announcement last Friday caught Toto Wolff and the Mercedes management by surprise. They had signed a new contract with him only this year. Niki Lauda has expressed anger, but he did the same thing to Brabham mid season back in the 1970s!

At 31 Rosberg is way too young to retire, but he has his reasons and they are easy to respect. One of those he does not talk about is that he has the last laugh on Lewis Hamilton, his nemesis throughout the last 20 years.

Hamilton rather churlishly commented on Friday in Vienna that Rosberg "won nothing for 18 years", and appeared to be unhappy at the turn of events as the news sunk in. He will not have a chance to win back his title next year from Rosberg and to go out and beat him on track.

By Saturday when the pair appeared together at the Mercedes corporate event in Stuttgart, they were apparently quite pally again and with Rosberg now so completely relaxed and at peace with his decision, it appears that Hamilton has got over it.

His mindset will have been brusquely moved on anyway by attending the funeral of his long time friend and mentor Dr Aki Hintsa at the weekend in a freezing cold Finland.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-24-39

Hintsa worked tirelessly on Hamilton to get him to control his mind and his emotions and no doubt the triple champion will have reflected that he must let the anger go over Rosberg's title and his decision to get out of the scene.

Playing on Wolff's mind now, with regards to Hamilton, will be two concerns. First this move of Rosberg's puts a lot of power in Hamilton's hands within the team and if, as seems likely, they do not go for a driver on the same status as the Englishman, then he will be top dog and will call the shots.

Second, it's quite conceivable that Hamilton may wake up one morning in November next year and decide that he wants to retire too. If he wins a fourth world title and takes the all time pole positions record, both of which are quite likely in 2017, then he may decide to spend more time with his private jet, his dogs and his celebrity friends.

So Mercedes have to think tactically here.

Alonso

Disrupt other top teams by taking their star name, or promote a junior?

Many F1 fans would love to see Fernando Alonso in a front running car and he has been desperate to get a chance to win again, after losing his way with Ferrari and then taking the life raft of McLaren. Two largely uncompetitive seasons have not blunted his quality, but he is closing in on the end of his career and would dearly love to have a chance to win races again. The sport would also benefit hugely from having all its biggest stars racing together at the front every week. That would be a spectacle to get fallen fans reaching for the TV ON button.

Wolff was always quite dismissive of the idea of Alonso in the past, because of his track record as a team player. But in this situation a two year deal with Alonso would make a lot of sense as a way to score maximum points in the expected Constructors' championship battle with Red Bull, but also as a hedge against Hamilton 'doing a Rosberg' and quitting next year.

But new McLaren boss Zak Brown was categorial yesterday in saying that the contract his team has with Alonso is for three years with no performance or get out clauses, so no doubt that fine print is being studied now in minute detail. Stoffel Vandoorne is effectively a rookie and Jenson Button definitely doesn't want to drive a McLaren next season, by his own admission. So Mercedes poaching Alonso would put the Woking squad in some difficulties.

"I think they (Mercedes) will go for a holding pattern, have someone support Lewis," said well informed ex Red Bull F1 driver Mark Webber. "Because I think Red Bull will be tough next year, so Lewis could go up against the two Red Bull guys with someone who's a bit of an understudy, if you like, or someone that is very short term.

"And then they need to go again for 2018 for a top flight driver. Because Lewis is capable of anything as well, he may wake up one morning.."

Pascal Wehrlein

This would suggest a driver like Pascal Wehrlein filling the seat for a year and the team would evaluate him and the other Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon at Force India, as well as take soundings with Alonso, Vettel and maybe Bottas about 2018.

Reading the tea leaves and listening to some of the figures involved in the process, this sounds like the most likely option.

This is especially the case after Wolff said,

"Why should Ferrari or McLaren be without Vettel and Alonso in December? Or Williams with Valtteri Bottas?"

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-18-48

In our JA on F1 poll over the weekend (above - click to enlarge) of almost 8,000 fans worldwide, 40% said Mercedes should go for Alonso, 18.5% said Wehrlein.

Many Mercedes figures accept that they have taken a lot out of the sport in recent years and a season in which Hamilton won the drivers' title but they lost the Constructor's to Red Bull, would not be the end of the world.

Additionally they need a new challenge and no team has ever won back to back championships across a major regulation change. To do that and to try to win the Constructors' with a junior driver in the second car would be a real challenge for them.

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