Nico Rosberg’s shock announcement that he will retire from Formula 1 at the age of 31 last week left us all wondering who will be his replacement at Mercedes. Or to put it another way, who dares pip themselves against one of the sports most formidable rivals; Lewis Hamilton.
In an ideal world I want to see the partnership between him and Fernando Alonso rekindled. The two have since moved on from their bitter war of egos in 2007, and who doesn’t want to see the maestro back on form at the sharpe end of the grid? But equally I want to see Mercedes bring through another star driver we all know and love.
Pascal Wehrlein was the best rookie on the grid in 2016. Even though he entered F1 as an established champion in DTM, Wehrlein has drawn attention to himself at the rear-end of the grid by being the only driver to score points for Manor since the late Jules Bianchi in 2014 and through his multiple Q2 appearances.
He has made some rookie mistakes, I seem to recall his simple DRS-enduced spin during Q1 in China which put an end to his afternoon. His antics during practice for the US Grand Prix, where he ignored the team in an attempt to rescue a lost cause didn’t do him any favours with the team bosses further up the grid either.
But for all the brilliant things Max Verstappen accomplished in his rookie season which eventually got him promoted up to the big boy Red Bull team, he was not without his foibles. Hamilton could act as a mentor in this case. He’s already won three championships and it looks like the fight could be closer between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari next year so having Pascal as a backup who takes the occasional race win (possibly challenging for the championship) would be in his interests.
Added to that is the experience Wehrlein has on 2017 tyres, he will be a valuable asset to any team in the early stages having tested them with Mercedes around multiple circuits this year.
This is perhaps why I was bit stunned to see Force India overlook him for Esteban Ocon, although at the time Deputy team principle Paul Fernley said Wehrlein has a “tremendous future” ahead of him – perhaps he was referring to a potential drive with Mercedes?
All speculation of course, but along with the fact that Wehrlein is German and Mercedes being a German car manufacturer looking for the next big German star to reinvigorate the sport’s popularity in the region, it’s hard to see why he shouldn’t be in a Silver Arrow next year.
With the departures of Rosberg, Felipe Massa, and Jenson Button, along with Fernando Alonso feeling disenfranchised at McHonda and fuelling speculation he will move to WEC in the near future, and Kimi Raikkonen seemingly hanging on by a thread, Formula 1 is entering a new age of super stars.
Verstappen versus Wehrlein versus Ricciardo versus Vettel versus Hamilton. Sounds right doesn’t it?
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