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Fireworks ahead? Hamilton and Bottas “completely free” to race for 2017 F1 glory

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Fireworks ahead? Hamilton and Bottas “completely free” to race for 2017 F1 glory
Jan 17, 2017, 5:17 PM

Niki Lauda says Mercedes’ new Formula 1 recruit Valtteri Bottas will be given free reign to race his teammate Lewis Hamilton, in a similar vein t...

Niki Lauda says Mercedes’ new Formula 1 recruit Valtteri Bottas will be given free reign to race his teammate Lewis Hamilton, in a similar vein to the rules the German manufacturer had in place for its drivers for the last three seasons.

Bottas was confirmed yesterday as Mercedes’ replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired five days after winning the world title last season. The Brackley-based team had previously given Hamilton and Rosberg the chance to fight on equal terms as they fought over the 2014, 2015 and 2016 championships.

In an interview with German TV channel RTL, Lauda, who is the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, described how that arrangement would continue with Bottas now lining up beside Hamilton.

Niki Lauda

He said: "As always: both drivers can push as much as they want, completely free. This never has changed at Mercedes and it won't change in the future.

"We talked to Lewis and explained to him that Bottas will be driving alongside him. Lewis doesn't have an issue with that and neither does Bottas. I think we can go calmly into the season with these two drivers."

While Mercedes let Hamilton and Rosberg fight for the world title on equal terms since it became the team to beat at the start of 2014, it also had to deal with the fallout of their close, and sometimes calamitous, on-track battles. And it controversialy intervened in the showdown in Abu Dhabi when Hamilton backed the pack up to encourage Sebastian Vettel and others to overtake Rosberg and hand the title to Hamilton. Paddy Lowe, who has since left the team, issued orders to Hamilton to pick up his pace. He ignored them and the team later accepted that the orders had been a mistake.

XPB.cc Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton

With many people expecting Red Bull to mount a challenge to Mercedes’ supremacy on the back of the 2017 chassis rule changes, the latter’s senior management may yet be forced to make calls to prioritise one driver over another if victory is under threat from Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

In the same interview, Lauda also outlined his belief that Bottas can perform at a similar level to Rosberg and explained that the Finn’s speed and experience levels were key to him getting the high-profile seat.

He said: "Bottas is the best man. I believe he can drive similarly as fast as Nico. This is why we start the new season with him and Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas

"We looked for a driver who fits our team. Until now we always had two top drivers who were able to fight for the world championship. Nico and Lewis were a fine example of that, because they were fighting head-to-head.

"Sometimes one was in front, sometimes the other. In the last three years we won everything there was to win. And this is why we decided to go with Bottas, as he brings experience and speed to the team."

"He is a calm Finn and I like that about him. He doesn't talk a lot but is a hard worker. Toto and I have known him for years. I think he fits really well into the team."

Do you expect Bottas to challenge Hamilton on pace in qualifying and races in 2017?

Bottas grateful to Williams

After he was announced as a Mercedes driver, Bottas paid tribute to the Williams team, which ran him and as a development and test driver in 2012 – a year after he won the GP3 title – and then gave him his F1 debut in 2013.

Valtteri Bottas

He said: "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."

What do you make of Lauda’s statements? How do you see Bottas’ relationship with Hamilton proceeding? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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