Valtteri Bottas - The 2nd Place Driver
Why Valterri Bottas is bad for Mercedes and Formula 1.
Formula 1 has been dominated by one team since the beginning of the turbo hybrid era - Mercedes-Benz. They have been one step ahead of their competition year after year. Whilst other teams have made some attempts to challenge them for championships, none have really managed to come close to pulling it off, especially in the last few years.
Dominance by a single team is by no means a new feature in F1, with Ferrari laying claim to the early 2000s and Red Bull the early 2010s. This level of dominance by a team though is unprecedented and unlike previous runs of dominance - the gap is widening, not closing as it has in previous years.
This dominance and associated predictability of Mercedes success has proven to be extremely unpopular amongst fans of the sport. At a time when F1 is struggling to keep viewership up, as new owners Liberty Media contend with Ecclestone era deals that leaves F1 increasingly behind paywalls, this lack of competition at the front is only contributing to falling number of viewers.
Whilst there is one team out front, and realistically there is only one team that can win constructors championships, there are two drivers in this team. Two drivers who both are lucky enough to be driving one of the greatest racing cars ever produced. But there's only one winner, year after year and that is Lewis Hamilton.
On the face of it, it's the perfect scenario for Mercedes - a rapid number one driver that pushes the car to its limit and beyond and brings home championships year after year and a solid number two - that consistently brings home big points to ensure that other teams don't get a sniff at their place at the top.
Whilst this ensures Mercedes dominance - it also removes all excitement from the front of the grid and from the team. Things were a little different prior to Bottas' arrival at Mercedes. Remember the 2017 or 2018 championship? Unlikely. But the 2016 championship? The year that Niko Roseberg and Lewis Hamilton battled it out all season long? The year someone managed to topple Hamilton? That was a memorable season.
This level of competition at the front is exactly what F1 is crying out for and having one dominant team standing alone means that the only way this is going to happen is if we have a proper inter-team battle once again. Year after year we hope that this is the year that Bottas can take the fight to Hamilton, but year after year we are disappointed by how little he challenges Hamilton.
Why is this situation bad for Mercedes? So much of a team's income comes from sponsorship, and what do sponsors want - two things - wins and screen time. They are certainly getting plenty of wins, but relatively little screen time. No TV director is going to cover a lone car, twenty seconds in front of the car behind. They want to see on-track action - overtakes, collisions, drivers running wide and locking up. Sure Mercedes will lose a few races, when drivers inevitably come together, but they'll also take back their share of the excitement, the drama, the screen time.
So whilst Bottas is the perfect, safe, number two driver - F1 needs something more. Someone who can put the pressure on the mighty Hamilton. Someone who can stick out their elbows, a Verstappen, a Leclerk, even a Vettel. Someone who can bring some excitement back to the front of the grid. Either that or Bottas has to find a way to get to Hamilton and prove what he is capable of.