How 2020 gives Bottas a unique chance for championship glory
Five of the seven remaining races on new circuits, can Valtteri Bottas use this to his advantage?
With his victory in Sochi last Sunday, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas is now only forty-four points away from teammate Lewis Hamilton in the championship, he now has only seven races to further close that gap and challenge his seemingly unstoppable teammate. If this was an ordinary season, you could probably bet on Hamilton taking the silverware for the seventh time but let me explain why I think the uniqueness of this season gives Valtteri the ultimate opportunity to pull off a championship comeback.
Initially, this season was set to be a record-breaker. For the first time in F1, twenty-two races were set to form the season, with a return to Zandvoort and a new race on the streets of Hanoi in Vietnam. However, look past the new additions and there wasn't really that much to call home about. The season would have still started in Melbourne, finished in Abu Dhabi with the summer break commencing after the chequered flag fell in Hungary. A more or less ordinary Formula 1 season.
However, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the calendar changed, dramatically. I don't think anybody would have believed that the season would swoop in an unknown direction and suddenly see circuits such as Mugello and Portimao join the calendar, or circuits like Nurburgring, Imola and Istanbul Park making their much-anticipated return to F1. Sure, we had to wait until July for it to be safe enough to finally kick the season off in Austria but I can't help but prefer it considering what has been served to us in the guise of the 2020 F1 season so far. With Mugello providing an absolute cracker on its F1 debut earlier in the month, I cannot wait for the coming races.
The thing with Mugello was that when the teams got there it was completely new to them. There was no data to fall back on, no other years to compare it to. Teams were forced to learn on the fly and drivers having to adapt and learn quickly with each lap, some drivers struggling to get up to speed more than others.
Despite coming second to Hamilton, Bottas held the pace advantage all weekend at Mugello. (FIA.)
While one would think that Hamilton, a six-time champion, would see this as no problem to adapt to a new circuit quickly, it was quite the opposite that weekend. Bottas had the legs on Hamilton all weekend right up to qualifying. Sure Hamilton took the pole and the eventual race win, but one could argue that Bottas could've taken pole had he not been held up by a spinning Esteban Ocon on his final run, or the win had the race not have been stopped and Hamilton didn't get the second chance to regain the lead he lost to the sister Mercedes as the lights went out during the initial start.
The point I am trying to make is, Bottas had the edge when it came to a new circuit. He was able to learn and adapt a lot quicker than his teammate or anybody else for that matter and the fact that out of the seven races left, five of them are on new circuit layouts (counting the Bahrain oval being used during the Bahrain double-header in December), this gives Bottas the change to replicate his form from Mugello and take the charge to Hamilton on circuits none of the drivers are quite familiar with.
Circuits such as Portimao and Imola, neither Bottas nor Hamilton have competed on before in F1 machinery and while you could say Hamilton has the experience from F1 at Nurburgring and Turkey, F1 itself has changed so much from the years since the sport's last visit to these circuits, it is barely possible to compare the last races here to the current sport and regulations. The last races at these circuits were in 2013 and 2011 respectively, but in the almost decade since the last races here, so much has changed in the terms of engine regulations, aerodynamics and tyres that it simply is not comparable.
So, what does Bottas have to do now? Channel his inner Nico Rosberg. He is already confirmed with the team for next year, he has nobody to impress, no team orders to follow, he needs to just go for it. We often talk about Bottas 2.0 or Bottas 3.0 but now, with the seven rounds left to go, he needs to get greedy. It's often remarked, you have to be a bit of a bastard (pardon my French) to be a World Champion, and that's exactly what Bottas needs to do. Much like Nico in 2016, he needs to get a bit greedy and just go out for himself.
2020 Austrian Grand Prix. (FIA.)
Do I think Bottas can still mount a charge on terminator teammate Lewis Hamilton with the remaining races left this season? If it had been an ordinary season, I would be thinking of wrapping the trophy up in a little bow for Hamilton for when he crosses the line in Abu Dhabi, but given what circuits are left and how Valtteri performed in Mugello when things were level, I think it's all to play for. This title is definitely Bottas' one to lose and he'll kick himself if he doesn't make the best out of the situation he finds himself in.