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“Defining Valtteri”

November 28, 2018

Valtteri Bottas finished 5th in this year’s Formula 1 Driver’s Championship, a long way distant of team leader and champion Lewis Hamilton.

Has the highly rated Finn been broken or is something else holding him back?

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

© Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

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“When it’s so close, you start to think about every lap and every corner after the race, trying to figure out if there is something you could have done better. But I feel like I did a good race, I didn’t make any mistakes and I gave it everything I had.”

It was close. Valtteri Bottas’ efforts to catch and pass Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps of this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix were certainly tense, but in the end, the Mercedes driver could not finish the deal and in doing so, probably cast the die for his 2018 season.

Admittedly, I saw all of the Bahrain Grand Prix from my living room {note 1}. It was an interesting race, that only really came to life in the final fifteen laps, as Bottas chased down race leader Vettel in his Ferrari SF71H machine.
Truth be told, the fight between began silently, earlier in the race. Following the opening stint on used super-softs, Vettel was made his stop on lap 18, changing to new softs, while Bottas pitted two tours later, but took on fresh medium Pirelli’s. In between their respective stops, the race’s other major story came to be when Kimi Raikkonen received an early signal to leave the pits during his tyre change. In the brief confusion, a poorly positioned Francesco Cigorini {note 2} had his left leg trapped under the rear tyre of Raikkonen’s moving Ferrari, leaving the mechanic with a horrific break.

For a seemingly long time, the gap between Vettel and Bottas hung at around five-to-eight seconds, particularly as lapped cars began to intervene. Yet in this area Vettel showed his aggression, whereas Bottas took slightly longer to force his way through. It was not until lap 45 of the 57 did Bottas’ charge begin. Crucially for the leading Ferrari, Vettel maintained a solid pace – first in the mid-1’34s, before wear dragged him into the early-to-mid 1’35s. Bottas’ pace, meanwhile, was erratic, although the fluctuating traffic did not help his cause.

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday - Steve Etherington

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

With the laps counting down, urgency gained momentum and the Finn found more pace, as Vettel’s continued to fall away. Despite closing to less than a second in the final few laps and despite the available of a quicker car and DRS, Bottas could not make the move for the lead. If anything, there almost seemed to be a touch of hesitancy that just gave Vettel the vital tenths. In following the Ferrari, Bottas did not show enough of a threatening hand, particularly on the run into turn one on lap 56 and a slight mistake in turn ten later that tour ensured the race was gone.
It is true that overtaking is difficult in modern Formula One – when has it not? – but sometimes it is not just the passing that counts, but rather the aggression and the threat to overtake that places you in the category. Max Verstappen is wonderful example of a driver whose threat to overtake can sometimes destabilise an opponent – in 2018, Bottas rarely displayed such attacking vigour.

Bottas repeatedly does well at circuits like Sochi, Montreal and Red Bull Ring, but there needs to be more. To be world champions, it is necessary to get the best results possible at every track.
But when your teammate wins eleven Grand Prix in twenty-one, taking takes his 5th championship in the process, then scoring eight podiums and 5th in the championship by comparison is not enough.

The question becomes ‘Does Bottas have that fighting, killer spirit to overcome his opponents and teammate?’ If Bahrain is an example, then the answer may sadly be no. Although he gave up a certain victory in Sochi to aid Hamilton’s title run-in, that is simply the position the Finn finds himself in at Brackley.
As long as he is that far off of Hamilton in results and the time sheets, his job will be to aid his British teammate , while also delivering the maximum possible score for Mercedes.

{note 1}
A confession. I did not attend this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, nor have I attended any other Bahrain Grand Prix that have taken place. This is nothing to do with any political or moral stance or anything along those lines; it is simply everything to do with business. Or the occasional lack thereof. It is unfortunate that this particular race has a habit of falling into a period where the headlines for the early season Grand Prix have subsided somewhat and no particular storyline has been defined, while also occurring too early in the season for there to be major technical upgrades worth writing about.
Financially, it can be a bit of a dead end. Others make it work, particularly if on full season deals, but opportunities are limited. It’s not a complaint, merely a reality of my position in life and everything else right now. Long ago, it became necessary to enter the phase of having to pick races and events that would best be able to pay my bills. That is life – and work.

{note 2}
For some reason, Word wants to correct the spelling of Cigorini to figurine. Go figure…

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

© Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

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