Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff isn’t expecting things to be totally smooth between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
With Nico Rosberg’s departure, Wolff is looking forward to putting the strained relationship between his drivers behind him. Without the “historical animosity” Hamilton and Rosberg shared, it looks like the Mercedes boss will have a less stressful season, but he doesn’t expect the relationship between the new team-mates to be completely easy to deal with.
“We had to manage [the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg], or at least we had to cope with that in the team and putting in a new factor with Valtteri, a very unpolitical guy, gives us opportunities and gives us more time to manage things other than the relationship between the drivers,” Wolff told BBC’s Radio 5 Live.
“I’m under no illusion that we will be in a situation where it’s going to be difficult. Valtteri has won junior categories and has been very competitive, and clearly that doesn’t come because he’s easy to deal with. I don’t expect this to be much of a smooth ride, but Valtteri is the one that fits Nico’s shoes the best.”
Throughout the battles on and off track over the past three seasons, Mercedes has steered clear of favouring one driver over another. Though that may have only added to the rivalry, it meant the drivers were allowed to race on track. This season will be no different, according to Wolff, who says both drivers will get “equal opportunities”, though Hamilton’s experience at the team will give him an advantage.
With that advantage, it seems the championship is Hamilton’s to lose, should Mercedes keep its dominance through the regulation change, but Wolff says Bottas shouldn’t be ruled out too fast.
“We haven’t seen Valtteri in a championship winning car,” he said. “I wouldn’t write Valtteri off straight from the beginning, but Lewis has been with the team for a long time. He knows the team and he knows the car, so it will be a difficult one for the new comer, but let’s wait to see what happens.”