Seven-time champion Mercedes-AMG Petronas has been at the pinnacle of F1 since 2014. Unfortunately for Valtteri Bottas, who joined the reigning world champions following Nico Rosenberg’s shock retirement, he has never been the man to raise the team to championship status. Playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton’s ever-growing legacy is finally starting to show the cracks in the stony-eyed Finnish F1 racer and his relationship with Mercedes.
First Crack on the Silver Arrow
Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3, episode 3 showcases Bottas’ more personal aspect, and it shows a much more naked (literally) and sensitive side to the brooding Bottas. The desire to change his silver arrow into a golden arrow came into full display in the third episode. The first crack in the armor was Sochi 2018.
Due to the close race for the championship between his teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Team Principal Toto Wolff made the justifiably awkward decision to force Bottas to let Hamilton pass him so that Valtteri could defend against Vettel. “I was gonna go faster next lap,” pleaded Bottas over the radio. “Let’s discuss it afterward. We’ll explain”, replied Toto. In the end, Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix while leaving a very sour aftertaste for Bottas.
Chronic Mercedes Rusting?
Fast-forward 2 years in Sochi 2020, Bottas finally decided to seize opportunities. While in qualifying and the P2 position behind Hamilton, he gave a massive tow to racing nemesis Red Bull and Max Verstappen. Unsuccessful in securing the ever-so-desired front-grid lockout for Mercedes resulted in Max securing P2 in the qualifier. Karma kept smiling at Bottas, as Hamilton was slapped with a 10-second penalty for practice start infringements. With Lewis Hamilton unable to recover fully from the penalty, Bottas secured the checkered flag at Sochi. Redemption tasting just as good as the winner’s champagne he would get dosed in at the podium.
Bottas re-inked with Mercedes for the 2021 season, even though he was getting linked to Ferrari during some point of negotiations. The Finnish driver has the potential to be a world champion, but will never achieve that banner under Mercedes. The general public is already counting down the days till George Russell claims the second throne of Mercedes. The two drivers even had a nasty crash at the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The Williams’ driver and Mercedes’ driver came together on Lap 32, bringing out the red flag at Imola.
The Finnish Formula 1 veteran Valtteri Bottas has a rocky start to his 2021 campaign. Even though he has managed three podiums, he has had two retirements and a 12th place finish at Baku. Both retirements resulted in the Flying Finn just being a passenger rather than a driver. To highlight the Imola crash, as mentioned earlier, with Russell and the disastrous Monaco Grand Prix wheel nut failure. The catastrophic campaign took a turn for the worse at the French GP.
“Why the f*** did no one listen to me when I said it was going to be a two-stopper. F***ing hell.’ The outburst was to reference all teams changing to a two-stop race after unforeseen graining and tire issues made teams covert a one-stop race to a two-stop race instead. As Mercedes gave post-race instructions for the chequered flag over the radio at the end of the race, an eerie silence echoed from Valtteri’s end, who finished a disappointing fourth behind the Red Bulls.
The recent Styrian Grand Prix bought about the return of Bottas on the podium after a three-race slump. But, unfortunately, the weekend altogether wasn’t sunshines for Bottas. Instead, the race stewards handed him a three-place grid penalty at the Styrian Grand Prix for spinning in the pit lane in practice and had the McLaren pitmen flirting with calamity. McLaren director Paul James complained to race director Michael Masi. “Absolutely ridiculous – he could have taken out our guys there,” James exclaimed over the radio. The only bright spot in the first leg of the doubleheader at Austria was that Valterri finished third. But still, he was 10 seconds off the pace of Hamilton and performed underwhelmingly, letting Sergio “Checo” Perez nearly catch him on the penultimate lap.
Going into the second leg, Bottas needs to put a championship caliber-like performance. Bottas and Hamilton have the same car essentially, so the pace shouldn’t be off by a lot, nor should he have let Sergio aggressively pressure him for the final lap. Whether Red Bull has the faster car or Mercedes is missing key upgrades, it is shocking to see the 7-year Constructor’s Champion continually struggle from race to race. However, it still is too early to label this a decline for Mercedes-AMG Petronas.
That all being said, Bottas is the key to a team’s championship goal. But which one is it? Two teams to consider are McLaren and Ferrari. Both are at the cusp of draping gold around themselves, especially with new financial regulations leveling the playing fields between groups. However, this seems more unlikely as the respective team’s latest 2021 signings seem to be flourishing. So, maybe Bottas can survive long enough in the midfield and join an infant team like Porsche or Audi and lead with his veteran experience.
The free-agent market looks to be setting itself up for some swerves and shocking twists. Will a new regime of racing arrive to topple Hamilton off his towering throne? Or will it be a tale as old as time? 2022 will surely be an interesting year for the famed Silver Arrows.
Who do you see changing teams in 2022? Will 2022 set a new hierarchy for Formula 1 Racing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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