JV: Keep Bottas, Ocon is too big of a risk

Two years ago Jacques Villeneuve was not a fan of Valtteri Bottas, calling him an embarrassment; now he feels the Finn is Mercedes’ best option for 2020.

Back at the 2017 Brazilian GP, Villeneuve labelled Bottas’ performance “embarrassing” and said it was at the level of a “number two” driver after the Mercedes driver fell from pole to second while his team-mate Lewis Hamilton raced from the pitlane to P4.

A year later, with Mercedes having re-signed Bottas for 2019, the former World Champion proclaimed that Bottas would not see out the 2019 season with Mercedes, saying they will instead bring in Esteban Ocon.

Now, though, after two wins and a handful of runner-up results, Villeneuve is questioning why Mercedes would even consider dropping Bottas and putting Ocon in the car as Hamilton’s 2020 team-mate.

“Why would you do that?” the Canadian pondered to Dutch publication Formule 1.

“Of course Mercedes must continue with Bottas.

“How many times have they achieved P1 and P2 this season?

“If he were to be half a second slower every round than Lewis, like last year: OK, you can replace him.

“But that is not the case.”

The 48-year-old feels putting Ocon in the car after only two seasons with Racing Point, formerly known as Force India, would be a massive risk for Mercedes as they bid for what could be a seventh championship double.

“Why would you take Ocon?” JV added. “He has not yet proven himself.

“I don’t know exactly how good he is and would never take that risk.”

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Bottas takes part in ‘secret’ rally test

Valtteri Bottas recently swapped his W10 for a Ford Fiesta, taking part in a rally test amidst rumours that he could be out of F1 come the end of this season.

With Bottas once again failing to match team-mate Lewis Hamilton out on track, trailing the Brit by 62 points in the standings, Bottas’ place at Mercedes is on the line.

The team did not take up their option on him for 2020 by the July deadline with Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff throwing fuel on the fire when he spoke of ensuring Bottas has a “soft landing” should the team decide not to keep him.

Soft landings, though, may not be what the Finn wants.

Earlier this week he took part in a “secret” – according to local newspapers – test in an unbranded M-Sport World Rally Championship-spec Ford Fiesta in Germany.

It, however, wasn’t that secret.

This isn’t the first time that Bottas has ventured into rallying with the Finn competing in the Arctic Lapland Rally, where he finished P5.

Speaking to F1.com about the event, he said: “It was the plan, to do something completely different and for fun.

“It was my first ever rally and I only had two test days before it, so for that it was really good and I really enjoyed it. I found the love for driving again.

“So, actually I still do some test days every now and then with the rally car and I’m planning also to do more in the future.

“For me, it’s just purely fun and truly enjoyable.

“With these small events and test days, there’s no politics or anything, it’s just purely driving, enjoying it, discovering how to be quicker and so on.”

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Time for Mercedes to drop Bottas in favour of Ocon

The summer break in Formula 1 is usually considered silly season, but there will be nothing silly about Mercedes’ decision if they opt to drop Valtteri Bottas in favour of Esteban Ocon.

In fact, it would be one of the most sensible moves ahead of the 2020 campaign as the Brackley-based squad starts building towards the future.

The numbers don’t make for pretty reading for Bottas after two-and-a-half years at the Silver Arrows as since the start of the 2017 season he has won just five races compared to the 28 from team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

But for Mercedes it is more a case of nervously looking over their shoulders as their rivals’ young guns start to dazzle.

Ferrari and Red Bull appear to have their long-term futures secured in Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, both 21, they have drivers who are ready to challenge for race wins and titles for years to come.

Over in the Merc garage Hamilton is 34 and Bottas will turn 30 at the end of August.

While Hamilton is in the form of his life and “driving better than ever” it is the opposite for Bottas as he is in a slump and one that Mercedes simply can’t afford in the long run, not with the likes of Leclerc and Verstappen breathing down their necks.

Hamilton might well continue for a few more years, but Mercedes need to start pondering life after Hamilton and can anyone seriously see Bottas taking it to Leclerc and Verstappen in a couple of years?

“If we take a decision in favour of Valtteri, then that means we would lose our hand for two years or more on Esteban,” Merc boss Toto Wolff said a few weeks back.

That’s why the sensible option would be to put Ocon in the car next year and bed him in for the 2021 season when the new regulations come into effect.

At the age of 22 Ocon already has 50 F1 starts to his name, but going up against Hamilton as a team-mate and renewing his rivalries with Verstappen and Leclerc will have F1 fans salivating.

“There’s been history with Max since 2010. We race close. There’s always been stuff going on. But it’s never left the track,” the Frenchman said during an interview with Top Gear.

“There’s always been [battles] with me, Max and Charles [Leclerc], fighting in karting. Most of the time we used to race together, we didn’t all finish the race!”

Some sink when thrown in at the deep end and others swim, but Ocon has shown that he has the pedigree to step up as he started his F1 career with 27 consecutive races without a DNF.

In his first season with Force India, he often took the fight to his much more experienced team-mate Sergio Perez and suffered just one retirement as he finished eighth in the Drivers’ standings – one place and 13 points behind Perez.

Last year was a little more difficult with all the drama surrounding Force India, but he still finished 12th in the standings.

Of course going wheel-to-wheel with someone like Hamilton is a different kettle of fish and at the front of the pack you can’t afford too much on-track drama involving team-mates.

But that’s a risk that Mercedes need to take in order to build for the future and Ocon should be happy to learn from Hamilton in the first few years and then take over the battle once the Brit decides to pack it in.

Shahida Jacobs

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