Valtteri Bottas shoots down speculation about mid-season change at Mercedes

Finn is out of contract at end of the year with George Russell a possible replacement

Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas leaves his team´s motorhome at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 6, 2021 in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona, ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. / AFP / JAVIER SORIANO
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Valtteri Bottas shot down media speculation on Thursday that he could be replaced as Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes team mate midway through the season and said such talk was just part of being in Formula One.

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

While seven times 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.

Reports 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 said at the 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]," he added.

"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 team mates 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."

Lewis Hamilton, bidding to win for a fifth straight time in Spain, called on Mercedes to keep faith with Bottas.

He said: "If I am being honest, I think we have the best line-up, in terms of deliverables, and the equilibrium within our team.

"Look, at some stage, it is going to shift. I am not going to be here forever, and Valtteri won't be here forever. But over the years, we have delivered time and time again.

"Valtteri just qualified on pole at the last race. People need to give him a break and let him focus on what he is doing."