Valtteri Bottas will line-up alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2017 after Williams agreed to release the Finnish driver from his contract. Valtteri’s place at Williams will be Felipe Massa, who is to come out of his short retirement to re-join the team on a one-year deal.
It brings to an end a saga that has run since Nico Rosberg announced his shock retirement from Formula 1 just days after winning the 2016 world championship.
Bottas quickly emerged as Mercedes’ leading candidate to partner Hamilton but the discussions ran for several weeks before an agreement was reached.
With teenager Lance Stroll signed up for 2017, Williams wanted an experienced driver if it was to release Bottas, especially given the dramatic regulation changes for this season.
Williams also could not field a second young driver as that would cause problems with key sponsor Martini. As this would create a bad image for an alcoholic brand.
It is believed Williams was initially uncertain whether Felipe Massa would accept an invitation to return.
But after making contact and holding an initial meeting, an agreement for a one-year deal was swiftly reached.
“I am very happy to have an opportunity to return to Williams,” said Massa.
“I always intended to race somewhere in 2017, but Williams is a team close to my heart and I have respect for everything it is trying to achieve.
“Valtteri has a great opportunity, given the turn of events over the winter, and I wish him all the best at Mercedes.
“In turn, when I was offered the chance to help Williams with their 2017 campaign, it felt like the right thing to do.
“I certainly have not lost any of my enthusiasm for racing and I’m extremely motivated to be coming back to drive the FW40.”
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said: “I’m delighted that Felipe has agreed to come out of retirement to be a part of our 2017 campaign.
“With Valtteri having a unique opportunity to join the current constructors’ champions, we have been working hard to ensure that an agreement could be made with Mercedes to give Valtteri this fantastic opportunity.
“Valtteri has been part of the Williams family since 2010 and in that time has proved a huge talent, securing nine podium finishes.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank him on behalf of the whole team, and wish him a successful season as he joins Mercedes.
“Felipe has always been a much-loved member of the Williams family, and having the opportunity to work with him again is something we all look forward to.
“Felipe re-joining us provides stability, experience and talent to help lead us forward. He is a great asset for us.”
Bottas joins Mercedes having scored nine podiums but he has yet to reach the top step in 77 starts.
The Finn is looking forward to the new challenge driving for the world champions.
“It’s mega to be driving a Silver Arrow this year,” said Bottas in an address to the workforce at Mercedes’ UK factory in Brackley. “I can’t wait to get working properly.
“My goal is immediately at the first race to get all the points that are available. I guarantee I will be giving it all.
“I want to thanks Toto (Wolff, Mercedes-Benz head of motorsport) and everyone at the Mercedes and Daimler boards for this opportunity.
“This is my fifth season in F1. I got nine podiums with Williams, but I’m still missing my first win, so that’s my first mission.”
On lining up alongside three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, the Finn added: “I think with Lewis we are going to be a strong pair together. I really respect him as a driver and a person.
“I’m sure we are going to close, and we’re going to be both pushing each forward. I’m sure we can work as a team.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief, said Bottas was the ideal candidate to replace outgoing world champion Nico Rosberg.
“I think Valtteri fits very well in our team, as a driver he’s very fast, and he has also the heart in the right place.
“He shares our values and passion,” Wolff added. “He’s modest and humble and he’s hard working.”
Best of luck to Valtteri in his new racing team, while Felipe briefly enjoyed his retirement away from the sport. It’s going to be fascinating how Bottas will cope in a highly competitive environment at Mercedes this season.