Mercedes Boss Toto Wolff is not a man who likes to be caught unaware – that’s why he’s doing all he can to ensure that Silver Arrows are never caught out again by a sudden retirement.
It may be long gone now, but Nico Rosberg’s sudden announcement to retire at the end of 2016 wrought havoc on the reigning team as they were left to scramble to find a suitable replacement. Although they have managed to turn near-disaster into a near-perfect pairing with Bottas joining the likes of their frontman Hamilton, Mercedes have learned all too well that backup plans are an absolute necessity.
Reflecting back on the events that kickstarted the 2017 season, Mercedes’s own Austrian Master of Disaster Mitigation Toto Wolff conceded that the team has fleshed out its stock of contingency plans for the future:
“There is certainly a component that in F1 you need to have a fall back solution, a plan B.
“Even having a contract doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to be like it is. There could be a change of circumstances.
“What we have now is a plan A, and then there is obviously various possible plays afterwards, because the driver market changes a lot in 2018 and 2019. It is important to consider plan B and C.”
Wolff went on to cover the intricacies of being put on the spot thanks to Rosberg, talking about how the team a multi-faceted issue on their hands – particularly with Pascal Wehrlein in the mix:
“It’s easier to solve problems that you saw coming, but the Nico thing came out of nowhere, at a time when most of the drivers already had contracts for the following year. It was not easy.
“We knew that we had Pascal as a possibility, but he’s probably too young to burn him in a car that is capable of winning races against the best driver on the grid.
“Valtteri was our primary candidate, but obviously Williams was keen to keep him. And it wasn’t the only factor. It was multi-faceted – there was also if we could agree on a financial compensation with Williams.
“Who would they take? What would happen to Pascal? At the same time undoing the Nico contract. Finally, to have achieved the outcome that was our most preferred option was good.”
Mercedes would certainly not be where it is now if it weren’t for the meticulous and persistent work out of all of those involved. A lesser team – with a lesser budget, mind – may well have floundered should one of their drivers called it quits on such short notice. Then again, these are the sorts of issues that one has to contend with when they operate at the peak level of performance in what is arguably the world’s most prestigious form of Motorsport.
Moving forward, Mercedes has girded themselves against future upsets, but as always – anything can happen. And only time will reveal what.