Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes in 2017, and since then … well, boy has it been a bumpy ride. He’s received a plethora of accolades and won nine races with 17 pole positions and 16 fastest laps. He’s garnered over 59 podiums in his career and finished second in the driver’s championship in 2020 behind his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
While he is no doubt a force to be reckoned with, Boltas has created his own share of problems, and at times arguably experienced second-class support from his Silver Arrow crew. Now, as his partnership with Mercedes is coming to an end, rumours are he will not resign for the 2022 Formula 1 season.
The story really begins in 2018 with the infamous Russian Grand Prix. Bottas secured pole position and was shaping up to win the race when he was instructed by Mercedes to let Hamilton through so he could extend his lead in the drivers’ championship. In retrospect, it can be argued that this move wasn’t exactly necessary.
In the end, Hamilton finished with 408 points, and Sebastian Vettel came second with 320. However, Bottas (247) missed out on coming third place in the driver’s championship by just four points, placing fifth behind both Kimi Raikkonen (251) and Max Verstappen (249). In context, had Bottas won the Russian Grand Prix, he would have had a seven-point surplus and would have finished third for the 2018 season.
This goes without saying: every race matters, especially if you’re Bottas. Subsequent to the race, Mercedes team leader Toto Wolff responded in a Sky Sports interview by saying: “We are all racers at heart and what we want to see is out and out racing, let the quickest man win and then we are a bunch of rational guys and we discussed a bunch of things in the morning – and then everything is different in the race”.
Even as a critic, it appeared that something was off, that perhaps had the roles been reversed Hamilton would not have done the same.
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In Netflix’s hit show Drive to Survive, Bottas reflected back on the situation by saying: “That was tough, tough to accept… I was pretty angry. Honestly, I was thinking, why do I do this?” And continued by saying he was ready to quit entirely. Wolff responded to this denying the possibility by stating: “No, he was very downhearted, of course. I understand that, but I don’t think he was close to retirement”.
More recently, in the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, Bottas refused to let Hamilton through after he had pitted for the second time in an attempt to overtake Verstappen. While Hamilton did eventually get past, he ended up losing a precious 1.5 seconds. Bottas was later asked about the incident and responded by saying: “I definitely could have let him by earlier but I was doing my own race as well… There wasn’t that much [discussion]. They told me not to hold him up too much. Like I said, I was also doing my race and I am not here to let people by, I am here to race. That’s how it goes”.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 25, 2021
Bottas did end up stating that he did not mean to hold him up on purpose but was focused on making sure he could pit again without having to worry about Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari.
What fuels these situations is the fact that Hamilton seems to be oblivious about the issues. He responded to Bottas’ comments with “I think we’re the best team-mates”. In fact, former F1 driver David Coulthard suggested via an On The Marbles podcast episode that Bottas’ actions in Barcelona may reflect the fact that he has already been told by Mercedes that he will not continue in 2022. “I wonder if he’s actually been given the heads-up that maybe the contract won’t be getting renewed… It’s possible. When I left McLaren they told me in June, which was when the French Grand Prix used to be, a year before my contract ran out,” said Coulthard.
Whether this confirms the rumours or not we have yet to find out, but the events that occurred in the past few weeks may be what finally pushes either side into leaving. During the Monaco Grand Prix Bottas was in second place, with Hamilton struggling, when during his second pit stop an issue emerged with the front right-wing nut, resulting in a DNF for Bottas. Hamilton eventually finished seventh. One of his worst performances to date.
After the race, Wolff refused to blame the engineer and stated “there’s always many factors that contribute to such a catastrophic failure”. While these may seem outrageous, some fans questioned the legitimacy of the issue and how it only seemed to affect Bottas, on a day when he would seemingly embarrass the current defending champion, Hamilton.
The most recent issue to occur was a three-place grid penalty for Bottas during a free practice session of the Styrian Grand Prix. The incident occurred due to Mercedes attempting a new strategy of exiting the pit lane in second gear instead of first. In their unsuccessful attempt to reduce their pit stop time, Bottas nearly took out the entire McLaren crew, and viewers are wondering why they hadn’t tried out this dangerous tactic with Hamilton instead.
While this year seems to be the pinnacle of all the problems between Bottas and Mercedes, there is no doubt that history runs deep. With Hamilton as the face of Mercedes, it seems inevitable that Bottas will be driving for a new team next year. Bottas recently stated that he is open-minded about the future and hopes for the best. For Mercedes, this seems like the perfect opportunity to take up the talent of George Russell who’s done an outstanding job at Williams Racing.