Valtteri Bottas: F1's nearly man
This article focuses on Valtteri Bottas and will provide an explanation as why he is not a championship contender
Valtteri Bottas took full advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s time penalties this weekend to win the Russian Grand Prix, his second win of this season. However, Bottas has struggled all season to stop Hamilton from sailing off into the sunset at each race and claiming a record-equalling 7th F1 World Championship, and now being within striking distance of breaking the all-time wins record of 91 set by none other than Michael Schumacher. Although, Bottas has now ended his winless drought which stretched all the way back to the first race in Austria. For the excitement of the championship, it surely is hoped that he will use this momentum to put Hamilton under pressure towards the end of the season and for there to be a two horse race rather than one for the title.
Since joining the Mercedes team, Valtteri Bottas has been unable to replicate the success that predecessor Nico Rosberg achieved with the team. There are a number of factors which could provide an explanation for this.
Failing to hit the ground running
At the start of 2017, Bottas had a golden opportunity to create an impression and declare his intentions at Mercedes. Hamilton was coming off the back of his most difficult season in recent times. 2016 has been the only year that he had not won the championship since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era. Therefore, Bottas could have capitalised of the fact that Hamilton’s confidence may have taken a dip. This is a purely speculative point, but if Bottas had become a constant threat to Hamilton early on, then he would have established himself at Mercedes as a driver who deserved equal treatment. Coupled with this, a positive start would have also enhanced his confidence and belief in himself that he does have the capability of fulfilling his childhood dream.
However, in reality, 2017 proved to be a difficult debut season for Bottas. He did manage to take his first Grand Prix victory at the fourth round of the season in Russia, but from then on he only produced two further wins. One during the middle of the campaign in Austria, and then at the final round in Abu Dhabi. He finished 3rd in the championship, a massive 58 points behind Lewis Hamilton. This points difference equates to well over two race victories. Although, perhaps Valtteri could be forgiven for not challenging Hamilton in his first season because he had just spent 4 seasons at Williams, who despite being competitive at times, never provided him with the opportunity of taking race victories and challenging for the championship. It should also be remembered that Hamilton began 2017 already as a three-time world champion, and who had been very fortunate in his F1 career that he had always been given a front-running car, save the first-half of 2009. The increased media attention could have also have been an added distraction. Apart from Ferrari, the spotlight always shines brightest on the fastest team in F1.
Lack of consistency
The key to winning a world champion is to be able to consistently win Grand Prix. Valtteri seems to be unable to do this. This was evident in 2018, his second season with the team. During this season, there was no excuse for Bottas not to mount a championship challenge when it was clear that Mercedes had again produced a championship contender to match a resurgent Ferrari. Bottas was conformable at the team and he was now an F1 winner. Unfortunately, he failed to record a single victory in 2018 as he watched Hamilton and Vettel fight for the title. While he had 8 podium finishes, he came just 5th in the Driver’s Championship with 247 points. This was a massive 161 points behind team-mate Hamilton.
The absence of a killer instinct
To be successful in Formula One, it is essential that a driver is able to make decisive overtakes instinctively as soon as an opportunity presents itself. It is rare to see drivers make errors while being put pressure, and so the attacking driver must be confident and inventive to make a pass. Valtteri Bottas seems to lack this confidence when he is chasing down another driver. He does not possess the late-braking ability of Daniel Ricciardo, nor does he look for opportunities in unlikely places like Max Verstappen.
At the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, race leader Sebastian Vettel was struggling on his tyres. In this instance, Bottas failed to capitalise on this golden opportunity by not even attempting a pass and so had to settle for second place.
This further evident at the 2019 Italian Grand Prix, where Bottas had a chance of taking the victory away from Charles Leclerc. He failed do so when he made a critical error into the first chicane which provided Leclerc with enough breathing space to beat him.
The Lewis Hamilton problem
History has proven that being Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate is one of the hardest roles in Formula One today. Fernando Alonso only wished to spend one season alongside Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg retired from F1 after beating Hamilton for the first time in their well documented rivalry that dated back to their karting days.
In his F1 career, Lewis Hamilton has accumulated 6 world championships, 90 wins, 96 poles, 159 podiums and 51 fastest laps. Hamilton will very shortly become statistically the most successful Formula One driver in history and will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time greats of the sport, if not the greatest.
Valtteri Bottas is currently in the position of having the best car in Formula One, but also one of the best ever drivers as his team-mate. The Mercedes team is clearly built around Hamilton, very much like it was for Michael Schumacher at Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. Now in his fourth season at the Silver Arrows, it seems likely that Bottas will always play a supporting role to the team’s superstar driver, which he seems content with. The 2018 Russian GP is a prime example, where he gave up the race lead to assist Hamilton in the championship. Having a number 2 driver in a team has been the case throughout F1 history. Bottas now seems destined to fall into the same category as Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber as Grand Prix winners, but those who could never quite cut it at the top to become champions. At the elite-level in Formula One, it is only the fine margins which make the difference. In the case of Bottas, he seems to be lacking the final tenths of a second to take the pole positions and consistent race pace for the victories weekend in and weekend out.
Following the Russian Grand Prix, Bottas has narrowed the points deficit to Hamilton. It now stands at 44 points. Seven races now remain in the 2020 season, with a maximum of 175 points still available. However, it is very hard to picture Valtteri Bottas now becoming a world champion, at least this season. Bottas has only demonstrated domination of a Grand Prix this season at the season opening Austria Grand Prix. While he won the Russian GP, he seems very unlikely that he would have won if Lewis Hamilton had not received penalties. Can Bottas use his win at Russia to mount a comeback? It seems very unlikely based on his past performances this season at the level that Hamilton is performing at. Bottas will be F1’s nearly man in the Lewis Hamilton era. Right car, but wrong timing. Although, it must be acknowledged that Valtteri Bottas is a still a very good, reliable driver. He has 9 wins, 13 pole positions and 53 podiums to his credit. The reality is, however, he will never be an elite driver of Formula One. This is not a criticism of Bottas, as very few are able to attain this kind of status.