Mercedes gives Valtteri Bottas 1-year contract extension

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland prepares at pits during the first free practice at the Hockenheimring racetrack in Hockenheim, Germany, Friday, July 20, 2018. The German Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday, July 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Mercedes has given Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas only moderate backing by offering him a new one-year contract

HOCKENHEIM, Germany — Mercedes has given Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas only moderate backing by offering him a new one-year contract.

Although Bottas has the option for an extra year in 2020, the Finnish driver will have to prove he deserves it with strong performances in 2019.

Mercedes announced the deal on Friday, one day after Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton agreed a two-year contract until 2020. It ends mounting speculation over the short-term future of both of its drivers.

The deals were announced at the German Grand Prix with the F1 season reaching its halfway point, and with the usually-dominant Mercedes team under a bit of pressure. Hamilton trails leader Sebastian Vettel by eight points, while Vettel's Ferrari team leads Mercedes in the constructors' championship by 20. Ferrari has not won the constructors' title since 2008, a year after its last drivers' championship.

"We have a big battle on our hands right now, so it's good to have the future clear for everybody. It means we can have a full focus on the championship fight," said Bottas, who acknowledged he must keep proving himself. "My goal is to keep performing at a high level and to make it a no-brainer for the team when it comes to deciding their plans for 2020."

The 28-year-old Bottas is in his second season with Mercedes. He moved from Williams on a one-year deal as an emergency replacement for German driver Nico Rosberg, who stunned Mercedes — and all of F1 — by retiring days after winning the 2016 title.

Bottas won three races in 2017, thus cementing another one-year deal for 2018. But he has yet to win after 10 races this season. He has finished second four times and is fifth overall, 59 points behind Hamilton and 67 adrift of Vettel.

While Hamilton endured a tense and sometimes bitter relationship with Rosberg, complete with finger-pointing and recriminations, he gets on very well with Bottas.

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff says this was an important factor, strengthening the view that Bottas is effectively a No. 2 driver behind Hamilton.

"When we took the decision in favor of Valtteri for 2019, it wasn't just about his undoubted speed and work ethic, but also a question of character," Wolff said. "His relationship with the team, including Lewis, is open and trusting, without any politics at all. Those are the ingredients you need when you're fighting strong rivals in both championships."

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More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org

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Follow Jerome Pugmire on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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