Valtteri Bottas had a tough task entering this season, being the new boy at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton. But he has more than proven his worth so far this year, and perhaps Silverstone was the race that could really define his future career…
It might sound odd to say a race where he finished runner up was more career defining than his first win in Russia or his second in Austria just a couple of weeks ago. Both of those races saw him hold off Sebastian Vettel under the most extreme pressure–and with tyre issues in both races. But it was hard earned runner up spot at Silverstone that really showed the new found confidence of F1’s latest ‘Flying Finn’, and probably made a contract for 2018 and beyond all the more inevitable.
Bottas has grown in confidence at Mercedes ever since FP1 in Australia. The first part of the year was a bit patchy. A disappointing sixth in China and a bizarre lack of pace in Bahrain saw him finish third. But Bahrain also saw him get his first pole and the following race in Russia was the scene of his first victory in Formula 1.
The two monkeys he wanted off his back were gone within four races. Another disappointing race followed in Spain though, a bump with Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen and his challenge for the win evaporated–he eventually retired with engine failure. Monaco was a bit different. A disappointing race overall for Mercedes but he outclassed Hamilton, qualifying third and finishing fourth whilst Hamilton started thirteenth and finished seventh. He then took a run of podiums with second in Canada and Baku, the latter the scene of his remarkable lap down to second drive. Austria then saw him take his second pole position and convert that into his first win from pole, and the second win of his career.
“It’s just amazing what we’ve done today. The car was so good to drive today. It was really quick and the team did a perfect strategy for both of us”
He had cemented himself as a true championship contender at that race, and then came Silverstone. Bottas outpaced Hamilton in both of Friday’s practice sessions, but this joy was short lived. A five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change took a lot away from his hard work.
Bottas qualified fourth on the grid, and started the race ninth on soft tyres. He made great use of those at the start, passing the Force India’s and the McLaren of Vandoorne and soon found his way up to fifth place. He kept the tyres alive for 32 laps, and emerged in fourth place after all the scheduled pitstops had played out. He then set about a 19 lap charge to catch the Ferrari duo, passing Vettel down the hangar straight and taking advantage of Raikkonen’s tyre issues to take second just three laps from the end of the race. It was a very mature, composed and quite frankly awesome drive. His pace was excellent and he allowed the race to come to him, making the alternate strategy work when Hamilton couldn’t do so in Austria.
“He’s almost a no-brainer. I would just like to get the puzzle together, and it’s not only about 2018, but there is logic.”
Bottas has probably surprised quite a few people this year. His speed was never in doubt, but his ability to be consistently on Hamilton’s level was. That doubt has now evaporated. He is showing why Mercedes hired him and not Pascal Wehrlein, improving each race and slowly creeping up in the title fight.
Silverstone was a gritty and determined race for the Finn, and it may well have convinced the bosses at Mercedes to say “we need to give him that contract now”. Another thing to add is this: Bottas is 23 points behind Vettel. That’s with the DNF in Spain.
Had that not occurred and you add those extra 15 points to his tally, he would be just 8 points off the championship lead.
He is still getting better and better. No more is this title fight just a two horse race…