Toto Wolff has played down reports Valtteri Bottas is still in the running for a Ferrari race seat. In recent weeks, the young Finn appeared a shoo-in to replace his older countryman Kimi Raikkonen at the fabled Italian team. But Raikkonen has enjoyed a spike in form, just as Ferrari reportedly ruled out paying the multiple millions demanded by Williams for Bottas' 2016 deal.
Wolff - although Mercedes chief - remains part of Bottas' management team, but he insists that these days he is little more than "an investor" in his career. "He is a good guy who would be tempting to many people," the Austrian told Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday. "But Williams is the third force in the championship, they aspire to be on the podium at every race and I don't think there is a reason to leave," Wolff added.
But could that only be because Williams is demanding from Ferrari such a huge amount of money for Bottas' release? "I think that's legitimate," answered Wolff, "considering that Williams assumed the risk of taking him on when he was young and could not yet show his value."
More pressing on Wolff's mind in the coming days will be the form of the team he runs, Mercedes, even though it seems to be cruising to the title. Or is it? Sebastian Vettel entered the summer break with another win for Ferrari, leaving Mercedes obviously needing to improve its race starts just as the FIA's clampdown takes effect.
Asked if he is worried about the rules clampdown just as Mercedes was faltering on its fully automated race starts, Wolff insisted: "No, because our team is able to react very quickly to changing regulations. "In general I agree with this decision in the sense that it is right that the starts are back into the hands of the drivers," he said.
As for the threat posed by Ferrari, Wolff insists it is real. "The possibility of us losing this title is low," he conceded, "but still we are aware that it could happen and so we keep our feet planted on the ground." To that end, Mercedes is now poised to finally spend some of its in-season engine development 'tokens'.
"We will decide next week," said Wolff, "considering the tests we do on the bench and the reliability we can achieve. If not in Belgium, then it will be in Monza." (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing