There’s a compelling argument to be made about the career and prospect of Valtteri Bottas that goes a little like this.
Bottas spent several seasons toiling away at Williams F1. He was a driver that could deliver the team points and even had his share of podium finishes and great qualifying rounds. After spending two seasons as a Williams F1 test driver, he delivered four seasons of respectable performance finishing as high as 4th in the drivers’ championship in 2014. He had nine podium appearances for the team and one fastest lap.
There were times of brilliance from Bottas that had many on the grid saying he was the real thing and his future looked bright, he just needed a top ride. At Williams, unfortunately, he was not going to have that chance but late last year, his moment came with Mercedes filling a vacant seat in the form of Nico Rosberg.
For Valtteri, time was running out and there were moments when his career seemed like it could be slipping the way of fellow Finn, Heikki Kovalainen, His teammate, veteran Felipe Massa, was running relatively well against Valtteri and I wondered at the time if he really was as good as everyone said he was. Surely he would blow Massa into the weeds if he were that much better, right?
In fairness, Bottas did out-pace Massa in aggregate but there were moments that seemed uncontrolled and slightly erratic from him while Massa remained solid and finished higher in the race than Valtteri. There were collisions and mechanicals but in the end, he did win in the battle of teammates.
Bottas was no stranger to winning, he’d won the GP3 series but it took over 80 grands prix to finally win his first race this weekend in Russia, a track he likes very much. As I watched Valtteri move away from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the first stint, I recalled why this was a man who many believe to be capable of winning races and titles. He drove an impeccable race and had no issues with being hounded late in the race by a 4-time champion in Vettel.
Mercedes wanted to replace Rosberg with a driver who was capable of scoring points and wins if Lewis didn’t and in Russia, that’s exactly what they got. It’s a long season and time will tell how well Bottas will do but in Russia, I saw a man who truly drove like a champion and showed that his time at Williams was all about honing his skills and perhaps he was even bumping up against the ceiling at the team which prompted a few less-than-stellar driving moments.
Maybe the lack of a car capable of winning at Williams was starting to hamper Valtteri’s progress and the move to Mercedes could unleash another growth and honing of his skills? He may not beat Lewis Hamilton in the championship standings this season but what he may gain is a feel for a race-winning car and the final fine-tuning of his race craft will begin in earnest. He may begin putting the finishing touches on his craft and become the complete title-winning driver many feel he is. The next Mika Hakkinen if you will.
There’s a tiger in the soul of Valtteri and the first time I saw it was in the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2014 when the team told Massa to let Bottas past him as he was quicker and Massa refused to comply. Bottas was told not to attack Massa in order to allow Felipe to get past Magnussen. Valtteri’s reply? “Then tell him to go through, I have more pace”.
It’s this spirit that prompted me to suggest that he may not be a pushover at Mercedes and given that he has a one-year contract, he needs to perform well. As such, the team orders in Bahrain were understandable for Valtteri as he was slower than Lewis and the team result was something he grasps very well given he’d been through this scenario in 2014 at Williams.
I hope I’m right on this hunch about Bottas. I hope we are starting to see the next Finnish driver to do well in F1. If he beats Lewis this year, then his stock will raise immeasurably and so it should. If he keeps his Russian GP performance going all year long, I think Lewis, Sebastian and Kimi will all have a hard time beating him. What if Mercedes replaced a world champion with another instead of an also-ran to support Lewis?
My money is still on Lewis, don’t get me wrong. You don’t win three titles and forget how to win. I think Russia was one of those anomaly races for Lewis and I fully expect he’ll be back in Spain but could we see some team orders later this year that do get a little stickier between the two?
It’s pretty obvious that Bottas had hit the ceiling of what was possible at Williams. F1 has a problem that is enviable and highly frustrating: Many more drivers who are capable of putting taking top equipment to P1 than there is top equipment available. Besides the drivers at the top three teams there’s Alonzo for certain and I’d argue MOST of the other drivers on the grid, given Mercedes or Ferrari equipment, could win Grand Prix. The system the FIA has in place creates good drivers, or at least allows the best to come to the surface. Which is enviable.… Read more »
You could put a monkey in one of the Mercedes and it could win races. I don’t buy Ferrari has completely caught up.
It’s a matter of both being talented and making the right move. He managed to get a ride with Williams right before they started to trend upward and left right as they started to fade back to midfield. If he took a ride at Sauber, or Force India his career probably is much different and not nearly as successful. It’s sad but so much of having a great F1 career is making the right move at the right time, just ask Alonso.
I have to agree about Bottas hitting the ceiling at Williams, and I think it shows that we have a surfeit of extremely talented drivers on the grid today. I’ve been a big fan of Bottas since his first season, but I’m not convinced he’s head and shoulders above other very good perpetual midfielders like Grosjean, Hulkenberg, or Perez, not to mention relative newcomers like Sainz and misspent expertise in Alonso. There’s just a phenomenal amount of talent trying to get the 4 seats that look capable of taking a podium this year (okay, 6 seats if you’re a Red… Read more »
1) I feel like someone needs to stand up for poor Phil Massa in the face of the ‘I figured he was shite since he drove on par with Massa’ rule of thumb which seems so common in F1 analysis. (not a knock on this editorial, just generally). Maybe Massa’s a really good driver and that Williams wasn’t so marvelous and he and Bottas were both driving the hell out of it! 2). As a big fan of Lewis’ skill and a skeptic of his character, and someone who likes chaos and whose F1 season bet depends on exactly this,… Read more »
I agree, Massa is a fantastic driver, should have been world champion in 2008 (a collateral victim of crashgate), and who knows what he could have achieved if it weren’t for the 2009 head injury. I suspect his loss of form, and inconsistent performances with Ferrari after that relate to that injury – head injuries require a long time to heal. And the performances he’s put in since the switch to Williams are far more representative of his talent. So Bottas has been performing well against a world champion class driver, in a car that was /is not great. In… Read more »