Mercedes’ shortcomings limited to Valtteri Bottas’ ‘slump’

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By , Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    Mercedes would have you believe they’re in the midst of a performance slump, though in reality it’s confined to Valtteri Bottas’ relatively underwhelming return since the Belgian Grand Prix.

    Fifth in the Ardennes forest and second to Lewis Hamilton at Italy were hardly cause for concern, even so, sufficient ammunition for pundits to apply the ‘number two’ moniker Bottas had previously resisted.

    The irony of the contradictory trajectory the season has subsequently followed demonstrates the fickle nature of Formula One.

    The German marque has been the benefactor of Ferrari’s incompetence at Singapore and Malaysia, essentially sealing the constructors’ title in the process, yet Bottas struggled to make an impression, while Hamilton capitalised on both occasions.

    Hamilton was fortunate that the opening corner carnage at Marina Bay also eliminated Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while Daniel Ricciardo endured gearbox issues, yet the Briton maximised Ferrari’s faux pas. Bottas was forced to settle for third despite the TAG Heuer/Renault’s flatulence, later realised in the literal sense with devastating effect at the post-race drivers’ conference.

    The Finn endured a listless weekend at Malaysia, qualifying only fifth as Hamilton magnified another Ferrari ‘moment’ with pole position. The latter was unable to convert this into victory, though representing the meat in the Red Bull sandwich on Sunday proved invaluable towards consolidating his title credentials.

    That Bottas finished in the same position he started, behind Sebastian Vettel, who started from the rear of the grid, and accounting for Kimi Raikkonen – having qualified second, who was unable to take the start – spoke to the W08’s weaknesses, which have been covered by rivals’ dramas on countless occasions this season.

    While the 28-year-old has appeared vulnerable in contrast to his laudable opening half to his campaign, the failure of upgrades at Sepang and the Finn’s reluctance to revert to the previous settings had a considerable hand in his impotence. Without which, third place was a realistic proposition. As it stands, he lies only 25 points behind Vettel.

    If Mercedes’ three victories and Bottas’ two podiums in the past four races can be defined as a ‘slump’, this has rattled Bottas, who candidly remarked, “It may be the most difficult time of my career so far.”

    Having already achieved two victories, the Finn believes “doing races like this for long, that is not going to be a good thing for anyone. So, the team need the points, I need the points, I want the points”, almost as if convincing himself that his contributions have been inadequate.

    One can’t dismiss the effect his tenuous stint with the Silver Arrows holds on his psyche, coupled with the hasty nature in which it was assembled, and it becomes apparent that the notion of Mercedes’ demise has been greatly exaggerated.

    It could be true that Ferrari and now perhaps Red Bull enjoy superior packages, yet we’re rapidly closing in on the finish line. So long as one continues to stumble and the other takes points away from the former, Mercedes has little to worry about, and Bottas can focus on having his head in the right space.

    It’s a testament to the Brackley outfit that despite constructors’ champion elect status for a fourth consecutive season, and a lead which continues to grow for one of its drivers, they should remain unsatisfied.

    Once they resume operating at maximum capacity, it’s an extremely ominous prospect for the competition, which can’t claim to have been starved of opportunities.