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3 Dec 2016
Replacing Rosberg...

 
Mercedes now have the unenviable task of replacing Nico Rosberg, given the German’s sudden departure after collecting his first, and possibly last, World championship.

Having recently signed a two year contract extension just about everyone was taken aback by the news ahead of the FIA’s prize giving gala, with the team only made aware of the unfolding drama two days ago.  For the team it couldn't come at a worse time either, as the 2017 regulations look to destabilize the established order and will likely see at least Red Bull draw closer, given the much bigger swing toward aero.  Throwing additional threats in the mix should have seen the Mercedes pair align once more to work against their adversaries, but that's not to be and instead they'll be forced to look at other options.

The obvious candidate for the second seat is Pascal Wehrlein, another German that would undoubtedly sit well with the board in Stuttgart and fits with his grooming for the seat up til this point. However, is it a year too soon?  He's impressed at Manor Racing this season and has his feet under the table at the factory, doing simulator work etc but you get that nagging feeling that Mercedes weren't quite ready for him.  It seems that they were trying to place him at Sauber for 2017, given Esteban Ocon, the other Mercedes prodigy, has a seat at Force India for next season too.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing Mercedes is that all of the topline drivers are in contracts, meaning they’ll face stiff opposition from their closest rivals if they make any attempt to lure away the cream of the crop.  This is clearly going to come with a substantial financial penalty, something we haven’t seen in the sport for quite some time.  Therefore if you have to make a cut throat move it might be savvy to create the biggest waves, taking another key driver that could start a domino effect amongst the rest of the field too.

So who else could be in the frame?.. (in no particular order) and just for fun a look at who might be in the frame to replace them?..

Valtteri Bottas: the Finn clearly has the credentials, having impressed since he arrived on the F1 scene in 2013, whilst riding the wave of Williams improvement in the early hybrid era and maximizing the potential of the FW36 in 2014.  That's not to say that we didn't all see his potential before that, with the shouting of 'BOTTAS' a Twitter staple whenever he made an appearance.  Having signed a new deal with Williams it's gonna an expensive exercise if Mercedes do decide to chase his talents, although a powerunit quid pro quo deal might prove favourable.

Replacement: Pascal Wehrlein, Paul Di Resta, Felipe Nasr, Alex Lynn

Sebastian Vettel: the four-time world champion went to Ferrari partly to prove his doubters wrong, but it's been a painful experience so far.  The Scuderia are going through similar issues to the ones Alonso faced during his tenure, something that the German will hope improves if he doesn't manoeuvre himself into the frame at Mercedes.

Replacement: Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Jean-Eric Vergne

Sergio Perez: 2013 was supposed to be the start of something big for the Mexican but his move to McLaren fell short of expectations and he ended up at Force India at the start of the hybrid era.  The McLaren year is somewhat of a blot on a respectable copy book as he always seems to impress in machinery that he shouldn't and is well known for his kind treatment on the sometimes Pirelli tyres.

Replacement: Pascal Wehrlein, Felipe Nasr, Esteban Gutierrez

Nico Hulkenberg: the Hulk has just signed the deal he’s being looking for, for some time, one with a works team.  That hasn’t stopped the silver arrows showing an interest though, with reports that phone calls were exchanged between Mercedes and Renault as the former enquired about the cost to free the German from his contract.  It’s certainly going to be a bitter pill to swallow for Nico, having skirted with Ferrari in the past and now missing out on the Mercedes seat, having seemingly made the right move only a few months ago.

Replacement: Doubtful it would happen but in any case Pascal Wehrlein as part of the contract trade, Felipe Nasr

Daniel Ricciardo: the smiling assassin will be gunning for the title in 2017 with an expectant improvement from a aero-centric regulation change.  He's made it patently clear though that he needs to put himself in a position that'll grant him access to a championship winning car.  If he gets the feeling that the W08 is a better shout than the RB13 the Australian would be a very good replacement for Rosberg.

Replacement: Carlos Sainz Jnr

Max Verstappen:  highly unlikely that Mercedes could prise the Dutchman away from Red Bull but irrespective of the quality of the W08 it would be somewhat amazing to see him face off against Hamilton in the same machinery, although I'm not sure they've made a radio system that can cope with the amount of chatter that would be going between each cockpit and the pitwall if they diced over the same piece of tarmac.

Replacement: Carlos Sainz Jnr

Carlos Sainz Jnr: some may consider his name appearing on this list a little left field but the Toro Rosso drivers career has kind of stalled having been overlooked, with the promotion of Verstappen to fortify Red Bull's renegotiation of Max’s contract.  Carlos has been a solid driver for Toro Rosso this year, able to hold a candle to Verstappen whilst up against him and having bested Kvyat on his return to the junior team.  He clearly has the experience, has a feel for the Pirelli tyres and doesn't seem flustered under pressure in wheel-to-wheel action.  

Replacement: Pierre Gasly

Fernando Alonso: the Spaniard is still considered, even by this author, to be one of the best drivers on the grid, given the right machinery.  Clearly he expected to be in a better position having headed back to McLaren from Ferrari but it hasn't to be so far.  However, this is perhaps the biggest conundrum a driver on this list could face, as the Spaniard has often moved to a team at just the wrong time thinking it may better his standing.  This also when McLaren are at an inflection point of their own, with Peter Prodromou likely able to maximize changes in the aero regulations, whilst Honda previously hamstrung by the token system will be able to make a fresh start and iron out many of the kinks that were holding them back.  The biggest question mark for them is the switch from lubricants supplier Exxon/Mobil1 to BP, a partnership they garnered when constructors in their own right but, given the rate of fuel development in the last three seasons it must be a concern to those involved and they need to hit the ground running, especially as the teams are limited to 5 fuel blends next season, rather than carte blanche.

Replacement: Jenson Button (called out of retirement as he's still under contract with McLaren), Carlos Sainz Jnr,

The retirees: Felipe Massa is available, understands the Mercedes powerunit and could prove to be a strong ally to Hamilton, it would make that send off in Brazil seem a bit silly though.  Mark Webber - the forthright Aussie is still in great shape, whether he has the want or need to go at it again is questionable but he’s worth a shout nonetheless.  Jenson Button - on the tips of lots of tongues but Jense is still McLaren property for the next two years, a shrewd move by Ron Dennis that stopped him committing to Williams for 2017 when the driver market was a bit more fluid.  Of course he or Mercedes could easily buy him out of that contract and pair him with Hamilton once more but, he doesn’t seem to have the desire to continue.  His last few races were ones of resignation, although a championship contending car could be a good tonic for this.

Out of leftfield: I’m not going to delve to deeply into their credentials but there are numerous names that come to mind either with the quality to take the Mercedes seat or become part of the game of Russian roulette in the drivers market that may follow on from a strong move by Mercedes - (in no particular order and no I haven’t checked if each one has the right super license credentials) Antonio Felix Da Costa, Felix Rosenqvist, Antonio Giovinazzi, Sebastian Buemi, Robin Frijns, Sam Bird, Pastor Maldonado, Jordan King, Raffaele Marciello 

So, what's your thoughts? Who'd you like to see line up alongside Hamilton in 2017 and if it's someone in contract with another team who would you like to see take their seat?

As you may know I do have a penchant for the odd photoshop or meme so here's what I photoshopped for Twitter yesterday....
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30 Nov 2016
13 Nov 2016
Whilst I'm trying to keep atop of the blog you may have noticed of late that there is less content appearing. For those of you that haven't realised, most of my work has now been moved over to Motorsport.com where I'm working with Giorgio Piola.

I'm still doing the technical image gallery for each GP with the continued support of friend of the site Sutton Images. However, as always my time is limited and so this might not be updated as quickly as it once was, so keep checking back.

As some of you may have found out already I'm also working with the Missed Apex crew on their podcast from time-to-time, either doing race reviews or dedicated 'Tech Time' shows.

I've embedded the latest version of the podcast below and will update this a frequently as I appear. However, please head over to Itunes if you want it to appear in your player when episodes are available. The show is great to work on and has a great lineup of 'regulars' but has also enticed some bigger names recently too, with Will Buxton and Bradley Philpot on shows during the summer break.


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