Valtteri Bottas dismisses talk of mid-season move

Hamilton's Mercedes teammate insists he will see out his contract

Valtteri Bottas shot down media speculation that he could be replaced as Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes teammate midway through the season, saying yesterday that such talk was just part of being in Formula One.

The 31-year-old Finn is out of contract at the end of the year and already 37 points behind championship leader Hamilton after three races.

While seven-time world champion Hamilton is fighting a close title battle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who is eight points behind the Briton, Bottas is only fourth overall.

He has two third places and retired in Imola after a collision with Mercedes-backed Williams driver George Russell, touted as a possible replacement, who was trying to overtake for ninth place.

The Daily Mail this week suggested Bottas could be axed and quoted an anonymous Mercedes engineer saying there was "some unrest" at the factory.

"I know that I'm not going to be replaced in the middle of the season," Bottas told reporters ahead of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, when asked whether he found the reports distracting.

"As a team, we don't do that. I have a contract for this year and I think there's only one team that does that kind of thing in F1 and we're not that (team)."

Adding that such speculation is part of the sport, Bottas said: "So no pressure from my side and I know how things are."

Red Bull have stood out for mid-season switches in recent years, moving drivers between their two teams.

Verstappen made a winning debut with Red Bull Racing, the energy drink brand's senior outfit, in Barcelona in 2016 after moving up from Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) and has seen a string of teammates come and go since then.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recognised after last weekend's Portuguese Grand Prix that a sensor failure had hampered Bottas in the battle for second place.

"We let him down with the engine that went into a safety mode," he said then.

"Like many times, it could have worked for Valtteri and we were pushing hard and continue to support him and see what he is capable of doing in Barcelona."

Asked whether he expected to be at Mercedes next year, Bottas replied: "I don't know. It's early days. I haven't thought about it really. At the moment I don't care. I'm just focusing on this year."

Hamilton was quick to back his teammate up.

He said: "I feel like we have the best line-up currently, in terms of the equilibrium that's within our team.

"At some stage, it's going to change, I'm not going to be here forever, Valtteri won't be here forever but right now I think he's delivered time and time again over the years and he continues to.

"Valtteri qualified on pole last race. It's only the fourth race (this weekend). I think people need to give him a break and just let him focus on doing what he's doing."

Meanwhile, Red Bull yesterday announced that they have hired another group of engine experts from rivals Mercedes as they prepare to build their own power unit after Honda's departure at the end of the season.

The team last month announced Ben Hodgkinson, head of mechanical engineering at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, had been hired as technical director of Red Bull Powertrains.

Yesterday, they revealed five more appointments to key roles, all from Mercedes. - REUTERS