Eric Silbermann reckons the sensible thing for Mercedes to do is replace Nico Rosberg with a compliant youngster. But he hopes the world champion team will ignore his wise words for the sake of the sport.
“Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung” has just been voted “Word of the year” in Austria and has been used in relation to the long delay the country faced in electing a new president. Perhaps, across the border in that there German-speaking Germany, the Mercedes people are toying with the term, “Automobilrennfahrerstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung,” to sum up the delay in appointing a successor to World Champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
But really, what’s the hurry, as the Anglo-German team holds all the aces and should really consider its options carefully? I don’t think anyone doubts that a deal which sees Fernando Alonso bought out of his McLaren contract is the most exciting prospect of all. It renews the bitter old rivalry with Lewis Hamilton, although both men are more mature than they were during their first hissy-fit-rich time as team-mates and the Spaniard would be absolutely fired up for one last shot at getting that elusive third title.
Alonso’s keenness to take the crown means he wouldn’t cost Merc very much, although I don’t think pride would allow Fernando to go as low as racing for points money. Over in the McLaren camp, despite all the upbeat talk coming out of Woking, you would assume that they still have a long way to go before they’re winning titles and the clock is ticking for the 35 year old double world champion. Facilitating this deal is the fact even McLaren wouldn’t turn its nose up at the many millions Mercedes would pay them for the Spaniard. Sell the sometimes difficult and very noisily critical man from Oviedo slot in the instantly available premature-retirer, Jenson Button – sorry, I mean Dr. Button - and it all starts shaping up nicely; an amicable arrangement to the benefit of several parties. Do McLaren really need the money? Well, it certainly wouldn’t go amiss, if Zak Brown’s opening remarks to the media at the Abu Dhabi GP are anything to go on, as he insisted that his main priority will be to find a title sponsor for the team. Personally, I don’t find that a very encouraging mission statement, as I would have rather heard him say he was going to shake up the racing side of the operation. Because when all’s said and done, the easiest way to relieve a sponsor of a big bag of gold is to prove that you are winners. McLaren cannot claim lack of funds is holding it back technically, therefore getting the car sorted out really ought to be the new boss’ priority.
But back to the topic in hand, Rosberg’s replacement. No matter how brilliant a Hamilton-Alonso pairing would be as a Box Office draw, it would be a nightmare to manage for the Brackley boys. Having won all six titles on offer in the hybrid era of F1, I can well see Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and the Mercedes board all looking forward to an easier time of it in 2017. If you think about, the tension etched on the faces of the Mercedes overlords either in the garage or on the pit wall in 2016 were, with a couple of rare exceptions, nothing to do with what the opposition was up to. Instead, it was down to anxieties about their own drivers running amok, crashing into each other, constantly on the radio asking what the other was up to, whingeing and querying strategies and so forth. Why go through all that and have to empty the piggy bank to do it? No, far better to spend the money on solid engineering to maintain your technical edge and go for a driver whose Twitter handle would become @ThankYouThankYouGodIamSoGrateful.
On current form, you could bet the house on Lewis Hamilton doing enough to take title number four next year; the Englishman will definitely be pumped up for it and Willing Wehrlein would do enough to protect his number one driver and score enough points to bring home the Constructors’ trophy that means so much to motor manufacturers. The safe option therefore is Pascal Wehrlein, neither Box Office, nor even charismatic at the moment but a compliant and willing Number 2, who might blossom in the future. If the Mercedes board aren’t totally convinced about the young German, they wield so much power in their role as engine supplier with several teams, that they could always get Force India to hand back Esteban Ocon.
If Mercedes does go with one of its youngsters, there will be no talk of compliant second drivers because the line will all be about promoting the protégés up the Mercedes staircase of talent. But Mr. Wolff please don’t be rational, don’t listen to reason, don’t take the safe option. Be brave, you are the undisputed top dog team at the moment, you are a statement team and you need to make a statement with your choice of a partner for the mercurial Hamilton. Pairing him with Fernando Alonso would bring out the best in both of them and make for some fantastic sport. And if by any chance the likes of Red Bull are going to be an even bigger threat in 2017, then who better than the scariest driver in the paddock, the Spanish Inquisitor himself, to ask the difficult questions of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Oh, just one last thing Mr. Wolff. If you look out the window towards the Tesco Brackley carpark, you might notice a little camper van with a Brazilian flag on it. That’ll be Rubens Barrichello who used to work at your place in its Honda days. He still refuses to believe he’s retired and he’s got a new pair of overalls, a lovely crash helmet and gloves and is all ready to go.