Grand prix

The moments that defined Bottas’ five-year Mercedes F1 stint | F1

Valtteri Bottas will leave Mercedes with at least nine victories, 17 pole positions and 54 podiums. 

After spending the best part of five seasons in championship-winning machinery, you can easily make the argument that Bottas’ statistics should look better.

Perhaps so, but alongside Lewis Hamilton, the pair have formed an unbeatable partnership that looks set to win a fifth consecutive constructors’ championship.

Hamilton himself has enjoyed his most successful years alongside the Finn as the harmonious culture at Mercedes has allowed the team to reach new heights since Nico Rosberg’s departure at the end of 2016. 

As Bottas bows out of Mercedes at the end of 2021, we take a look at the moments that defined his five-year stint with the team.

The first is the most important

After three impressive seasons with Williams that didn’t quite yield that first grand prix victory, Bottas joined Mercedes searching for his maiden F1 win.

A resurgent Ferrari in 2017 was always going to make it more difficult for Bottas and Mercedes as Sebastian Vettel won two of the opening three races, while Hamilton won the other. 

Bottas arrived at his favoured circuit in Sochi with just two third-place finishes to his name, although he had taken his first-ever pole in Bahrain a race before.

Ferrari locked out the front row with Vettel on pole ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Bottas sitting in third having out-qualified Hamilton by just under 0.5s. 

A rocket start from Bottas allowed him to breeze past the Ferrari pair into the lead of the race.

He didn’t look back from that moment onwards as resisted late pressure from Vettel to claim his maiden grand prix victory.

“Hahaha! F— me! Took quite a while, huh? More than 80 races. Worth the wait,” he said after he crossed the line in Sochi.

Bottas was off the mark…

Harmony with Hamilton

Unlike in the first three years of the hybrid era, Mercedes had serious competition in the form of Vettel. 

Going into the Spanish Grand Prix, Vettel already had a 13-point lead over Hamilton, with Bottas a further 10 points back from that. 

As the two multiple-time champions duelled it out for the victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Mercedes used Bottas strategically to hold Vettel up as Hamilton went in search of his second victory of 2017.

The time Vettel lost proved crucial as combined with a fortunate Virtual Safety Car window, Hamilton was able to stick close to the back of the Ferrari before breezing past the German to take the victory.

The great working relationship between the pair was again on show several months later at the Hungaroring

Vettel was nursing a steering issue out front with Raikkonen just behind, while Bottas couldn’t make any headway so Mercedes decided to switch them around on the basis Hamilton would relinquish the position.

Many thought Hamilton wouldn’t hand third back to Bottas after not being able to overtake either Ferrari, but he did, despite being Vettel’s most realistic rival for the title.

Those three points Hamilton handed back to Bottas could have been important at the end of the season but his willingness to play the team game showed the great respect and harmony between the Mercedes teammates.

Baku heartbreak

Bottas headed to Baku which hosted the fourth round of the 2018 season on the back of two near-misses in terms of victories. 

The first was in Bahrain where he reluctantly didn’t go for a final lap move on Vettel, while in China, he led the race before a masterstroke from Red Bull saw them switch to new softs under the Safety Car allowing Daniel Ricciardo to overtake Bottas for the win.

He inherited the lead in Azerbaijan as the Safety Car allowed Bottas to jump ahead of Vettel and Hamilton. 

On course for his first victory of the season, disaster struck and Bottas picked up a puncture in the closing laps, handing Hamilton an unlikely victory.

Bottas was distraught and more importantly, the win would have moved him top of the championship for the first time in his career.

Valtteri, it’s James…

Ferrari’s engine gains over the winter meant Vettel was an even more formidable force in 2018.

F1 arrived at the Hockenheimring with Vettel eight points clear of Hamilton, while Bottas was down in fifth, behind both Ricciardo and Raikkonen.

The Ferrari was in a league of its own on race day as Vettel dominated the first half of the race ahead of Bottas, on the other hand, Hamilton was left to recover from 14th on the grid following a mechanical issue in qualifying. 

The race turned on its head – as did the title race – on Lap 52, when Vettel went off at Sachs Kurve. 

Hamilton inherited the lead on his old ultra-softs with Bottas in second dropping back after a slow stop.

Making the most of his new tyres, Bottas attacked Hamilton on the restart as he looked to do the conventional switchback at the hairpin.

“Valtteri, it’s James, please hold position. I’m sorry,” he was told. 

Mercedes secured an important 1-2 on a day that looked to Vettel’s.

The team orders didn’t stop at Hockenheim as he surrendered the victory at Russia, ensuring Hamilton a certain fifth title.

Bottas ended 2018 winless, fifth in the championship and fighting for his Mercedes future. 

To whom it may concern…

After a winless 2018 campaign – with a lot of bad luck – Bottas hit back straight away in 2019 with a dominant victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. 

Bottas took the chequered flag by over 20s to get his season started in the best way possible.

His victory at Albert Park produced his most iconic soundbite over team radio.

“To whom it may concern, f— you!” – A message to the haters, Bottas 2.0 was here to stay.

Missed opportunities in 2019

Two wins in the opening four rounds of the season was a promising start for Bottas as he arrived in 2019 on the back of an extended winter break. 

Bottas secured pole at three consecutive races – China, Azerbaijan and Spain – winning just one of them in Baku, while at the other two he lost out to Hamilton at the start. 

Nico Rosberg often made the most of Hamilton’s off weekends, but Bottas simply didn’t capitalise on Hamilton’s sluggish – by his high standards- start to 2019.

His 2019 title chances officially ended at the German Grand Prix, where second place was there for the taking as Hamilton ran at the back of the field.

Bottas crashed out at Turn 1 while running in fourth, had he secured a rostrum finish with Hamilton outside of the points, he’d have moved to within a race win of his teammate in the championship battle.

Instead, he had to start looking over his shoulder at Verstappen, who was just 22 points behind.

More of the same in 2020

2020 was more of the same for Bottas – missed opportunities and inability to make that final step to be a serious threat to Hamilton. 

Bottas took impressive poles at the Nurburgring and Imola, but couldn’t convert them.

A recurring theme throughout 2020 was Bottas to lead the way in practice and qualifying, but Hamilton to come out on top when it mattered.

No doubt, the Finn had upped his game in terms of raw pace but Hamilton had him covered in the crucial moments. 

Sakhir 2020

The writing was on the wall for Bottas after George Russel’s starring debut at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

With Hamilton ruled out due to covid, Mercedes drafted in its hot prospect for the future and the man many tipped to replace Bottas at some point. 

The Mercedes W11 was the class of the field and with Russell’s lack of experience, the pressure was on Bottas to win.

Bottas claimed pole at Bahrain’s outer circuit by the slenderest of margins. 

Unfortunately for Bottas, that’s where the positives end as Russell took the lead into Turn 1 before building up a sizeable advantage at the front. 

What happened after with the pit stop fiasco was inconsequential as Russell proved he already had the speed and ability to drive for the reigning world champions.

The final straw

After once again showing impressive pace in practice, Bottas fell away when it mattered in qualifying for the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as he struggled for tyre temperatures in Q3, only managing eighth on the grid.

Changeable conditions at Imola meant it was a struggle for Bottas on race day, running in the lower end of the top 10.

As Bottas struggled to get heat into his slick tyres, Russell saw a chance to pass down the start-finish straight into the Tamburello chicane.

Bottas veered slightly right in his Mercedes, while Russell misjudged it completely, touching the damp kerb, spinning and spearing into Bottas in process and thus ending both of their races. 

Afterwards, an enraged Russell marched over to the remains of Bottas’ Mercedes to confront him, while Bottas gave him the middle finger. 

Regardless of who was at fault, Bottas was about to be overtaken by Russell in a Williams. 

If Sakhir 2020 wasn’t decisive enough, Imola surely was the final straw.

Russell is too good to ignore

In 2021, Bottas sits third in the championship with seven podium finishes in the opening 13 races. 

Bottas still remains the perfect number two driver when you compare his seven rostrum appearances to Sergio Perez’s two in the second Red Bull.

However, with Hamilton not getting any younger and F1’s top talent locked down to longer-term deals – Verstappen at Red Bull; Norris with McLaren; Leclerc at Ferrari – it’s only right Mercedes looks to the future.

Russell is ready for Mercedes and his performances in 2021 have shown that.

Bottas bows out of Mercedes after five years with the team.

While he could have achieved more from a personal standpoint, his selfless, unselfish attitude is why he’s been a Mercedes driver for so long. 

That’s an achievement in itself.

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