In the last few weeks, Valtteri Bottas’ future has been discussed again, with a few rumors circulating among certain media that the Finn has already been told that he will be replaced by George Russell next season.
Both Bottas and Russell rejected this claim, but it is not an attitude it is not previously familiar with. Since joining Mercedes in 2017, he has been faced with questions about his future pretty much every ride due to the tendency to only be offered one-year extensions that do not suggest the team has full confidence in his ability to be part of the line-up in the long run.
Maybe it’s just used as a way to motivate Bottas and ensure that he always fights for his future and always submits to the team’s requests because he knows that any disagreement can spell the end of his time at Brackley. And if so, it has worked because it leads to a situation where he simply is not animated enough to get many people to connect with him.
It can be summed up with Bottas’ radio message late in the French Grand Prix, when he had dropped to fourth and angrily said, “Why does nobody listen to me when I say it’s going to be a two-stop? F ••• in hell. ”
I live tweet during races and simply sent the exact message. It’s become the most favorite tweet I’ve ever had, and it’s because it showed some emotion, a kind of fight, something for fans to fall behind or disagree with. Bottas took a stand.
And he does so rarely. Even Toto Wolff admitted afterwards: “I loved that he speaks his mind now and does not internalize.”
But in reality, I wonder if Wolff really loves the fact that Bottas delivered such an outburst because it completely contradicts the driver’s nature that fits so well into the Mercedes setup.
In many ways, Bottas is boring, which is why fans do not warm to him so much. Most of the time, he is very good enough to keep Mercedes happy and ensure the team wins titles, but not good enough to threaten Lewis Hamilton on a regular basis. And when they meet each other on the track, he always plays fair, but rarely hard.
So when things go wrong, it’s not like Bottas expressing his frustrations. He is good at being calm and composed, not criticizing the team or making a scene. That was the case in Imola, where he did not bite too hard on Russell’s reaction to their collision, and the same in Monaco, when he retired from a certain second place after a wheel nut was machined on the front axle.
“It was a big mistake for us, as a team, to learn from,” was about as animated as Bottas got with the media. “Whether it is human error or a technical problem, it does not matter – we must find the solution. If it’s a human error, we need to support the guy who did it, but we need to learn from it – that’s the most important thing in my mind. And at the same time, I’m super disappointed. ”
It’s hardly bad, is it?
And that’s exactly why he’s been holding on to Mercedes for as long as he’s done. Bottas still wins a couple of races, collects lots of podiums and sometimes shows incredible speed over a lap (do not forget that he is up against the driver with a record-breaking record in Formula 1). But when things don’t go his way, he just doesn’t create drama.
For those outside, it’s all negative. You want drama and entertainment. You want controversy and a little needle. You will see that drivers give it absolute and then show some emotion when it does not pay off.
Bottas is not too often suited for it, but 2021 is starting to feel like the season where that may change. Mercedes is clearly under pressure, and it’s not just from Max Verstappen. Sergio Perez’s presence has increased efforts, making life difficult for the defending champions in France and ensuring that Mercedes did not have the obvious strategic opportunity available.
In the end, Bottas was sacrificed. Red Bull shared his strategies with Verstappen, who went after the two-stopper, and Perez ran long into the first period before committing to one-stop. It was not entirely clear which would prove the right move, but by uncovering his bets, Red Bull had a backup policy in case Verstappen’s second stop from the lead did not pay off.
Bottas clearly did not want to catch and pass Hamilton as he had stopped earlier than his teammate and slid back slowly but Mercedes did not choose to follow suit when Verstappen stopped. It could have brought Bottas in, tried to put pressure on Verstappen still and ensured that if the two-stop were to work, it would not just be the championship leader who tried it.
But by letting Bottas out, he had the track position and could offer some form of resistance that could slow Verstappen’s progress. He became the first line of defense for Hamilton rather than the second line of attack for Mercedes.
That explains why he was so angry about team radio, but also highlights his role within the team. It is a fair argument that Mercedes weighed its chances of winning and felt that one-stop with Bottas in Verstapen’s way was the best way to go, and on that basis it ruthlessly became monotonous in its pursuit of a victory in the race, regardless of the driver. Bottas gives the team confidence to do so because he will follow the order. Whether Hamilton would be in the same situation is another debate …
Fans everywhere would probably like to see the former Williams driver go a little more rogue, question more decisions, try something different and basically stand up for himself a little more against Mercedes if he feels he is not getting the green. But the reality is that it’s a recipe for disaster, because if Bottas does, he’s losing what makes him so attractive to Wolff and the company.
If he starts to be less obedient and more overt, then the writing might really be on the wall for Bottas. If he’s still frustrating you with not being enough of a bastard, then he’s probably doing his job.