Fernando Alonso’s hopes of ending his McLaren nightmare with a move to Mercedes have been dismissed by Lewis Hamilton after he claimed the Spaniard would not be joining him next season.
Alonso, who won the last of his two championships with Renault more than a decade ago, is in the final season of his three-year deal with the British team. The 35-year-old has stated that he will take stock of his future during the summer break but he is keen to remain in the sport if he can find a competitive car which will afford him the chance to fight for victories and the third title he so desperately craves.
Alonso revealed that he held talks with Mercedes following defending champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire, before they moved to sign Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas on a one-year deal.
The length of Bottas’s contract may have lured Alonso to believe that he could be in the running to join Hamilton in a mouthwatering and potentially explosive line-up at Mercedes next term. But Britain’s triple world champion poured cold water on such a move on the eve of the second round of the season in China.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Hamilton. “Valtteri is fantastic here at the team. He was very, very fast at the last race. He has obviously got a lot of potential and a lot of growth to go, but it is all about finding the right balance in the team. So far Valtteri and I have a great balance and the scales weigh up nicely.
“If you have got two kilos on either side, and then take the two kilos off and put four on, what is the point? You need the balance.”
Sebastian Vettel, the Ferrari driver who is also in the final season of his current deal with the resurgent Italian team, could also be an option for Mercedes in 2018. But Bottas, who finished third on his debut for Mercedes in the opening round of the season in Melbourne, insists he is not fazed by the threat of losing his seat after just one term.
“For me, even though it is a more important year than ever before, nothing changes from my side,” he said. “There is only a certain amount of things I can do which is to drive the car as fast as I can.
“I have a good feeling within the team and it is up to me to prove myself, and if I perform well there is going to be no problem. There are no strict guidelines or x amount of points that the team want me to achieve.
“They are going to review my performance throughout the year and make a decision then, which I think is completely fair.”
Bottas was plucked by Mercedes to fill Rosberg’s shoes and join Hamilton after four seasons with Williams.
The 27-year-old Finn comfortably saw off the competition from veteran Brazilian Felipe Massa during their three years together at the famous British team. But his move to the might of Mercedes will provide a truer test of Bottas’s credentials which led his former employers to earmark him as a future world champion.
“Of course it is tough as Lewis is one of the quickest drivers in Formula One, maybe even ever,” Bottas added. “He is very experienced and knows the team really well. He is not an easy guy to beat and that is a fact, but I like the challenge, and it is a great opportunity to prove myself and my skills and he is a great reference.
“It is a very big year for me and there is no doubt that it is the most important year of my career, but I know from the first race I will improve. It is going to be a close fight with Ferrari and who knows, later in the year maybe even Red Bull? But I feel like I am going to be part of the race for this championship.”
Bottas lines up in third for today’s race in China with Hamilton starting from pole position and Vettel second.
Vettel, the four-time world champion, cemented his status as Hamilton’s No 1 rival this year by virtue of his victory at the opening round in Australia a fortnight ago.
And the title protagonists will do battle once more after they locked out the front row following an enthralling qualifying session here in Shanghai.
The bad weather which wreaked havoc with Friday’s practice schedule, and forced the sport’s new owners to consider moving the grand prix forward by 24 hours, is poised for a menacing return for the race, which is due to start at 7am UK time.