Claire Williams has for the first time revealed that the Williams Martini Racing team will be willing to release Valtteri Bottas to join Mercedes, but only if it can source an experienced alternative to replace him.
The nine-time F1 podium winner has emerged as the clear frontrunner to replace retired champion Nico Rosberg in the title-winning Mercedes team, but Williams has already turned down an initial approach that involved the caveat of a significant engine bill reduction and the offer a driver replacement in Pascal Wehrlein.
Nevertheless, deputy team principal Williams has told the BBC
that it will consider allowing Bottas – whose new deal with the team was only revealed in November – to defect provided it can secure a reasonable and experienced replacement itself at this late stage.
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With this in mind, newly-retired Felipe Massa could be in line for a sensational comeback, with Williams herself identifying him as an option.
“Williams has its own ambitions and we must always ensure we give our team the best opportunity to move forward. Any changes would only be made if Williams remains in a strong position to compete and develop in 2017.
“If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would only do this if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as someone like Felipe Massa for example."
Williams remains in a good position to drive a hard bargain with Mercedes given the manufacturer's options beyond Bottas appear limited to Wehrlein, who is considered to be too inexperienced for the high-profile role alongside Lewis Hamilton.
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Indeed, the unexpected announcement by Rosberg, just days after winning his first F1 title, caught Mercedes off guard and left it with scant good quality options with which to fill the seat, though the same applies to Williams if it must replace Bottas after signing rookie Lance Stroll as his team-mate.
Eighteen year-old Stroll was signed on the premise that he would have less pressure to develop in his rookie campaign alongside an experience team-mate. With this in mind, Massa – who retired from F1 last month after being replaced by Stroll – would be seen as a worthy option so long as the Brazilian is willing to return.
Despite the complexity of any potential deal, Williams and Mercedes have developed a strong working relationship over the years, with Wolff formally a director, while the team has enjoyed an upturn in success since switching to the German firm's engine supply.
Mercedes has confirmed that it will not reveal the identity of Rosberg's replacement until January 2017 at the earliest.
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