Bottas and Ricciardo: The fight for third

William Dunn Roar Rookie

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    Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes waves to Formula One fans and media. (Image supplied by AMG Petronas Motorsport).

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    There are three races to go in this championship season. Mercedes have secured a fourth Constructors title, and unless Hamilton decides to drive backwards this weekend in Mexico, he will surely claim his fourth Drivers’ Championship.

    The bad fortunes of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel over the last few races have been well documented, and the German is now left with little to no chance this season of etching his name on the championship trophy for a fifth time.

    The Prancing Horse are doing their best to limp to the stables with dignity as the season draws to an end.

    But the battle at the front between the Silver Arrows and the Scuderia isn’t the most important of the championship coming into Mexico. That distinction falls to the fight between Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.

    Bottas, currently third in the championship and 52 points ahead of Riccardo, has won two races this year and managed ten podiums. The man across the garage from the Finn, and world champion-elect, has nine wins and 12 podiums.

    Ricciardo, meanwhile, has managed one win and nine podiums, fair to say an above average haul for the season so far.

    These numbers should worry Bottas. He never seemed to be at the same level as Hamilton this season even in a car that should have allowed him to be. This could be down to many things. Perhaps Bottas doesn’t have the same dogged determination to beat Hamilton that Rosberg did last year, maybe he is still finding his feet within the team, or maybe Hamilton is just too good to be matched.

    Whatever the case, it seems that Bottas has awarded himself the position of Number Two driver within the Mercedes team (much in the same way Kimi has done at Ferrari).

    While Mercedes are likely quite happy with Bottas’ (decidedly) supporting role this season he shouldn’t be satisfied. Why? Because Ricciardo is not only the man threatening to catch him in the drivers’ standings, he is the man billed to take his seat at the end of next season.

    Ricciardo’s contract with Red Bull finishes in 2018, and he has already expressed some excitement at shopping around next year as a free agent. Those with their fingers on the pulse of Formula One believe he will end up at Mercedes, in the seat that Bottas currently occupies.

    Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing prepares in his car

    (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

    Red Bull were considered a distant third in the ‘top three’ teams this year. They were expected to merely annoy the title contenders, nip at their heels, maybe snag a podium or two, but certainly not pressure one of their drivers for third place in the championship. Now their drivers have won two races and, at times, were able to match or even better the performances of the front-runners.

    It would be wrong to label Bottas’ year a failure. His two wins this season, the first of his career, demonstrated his maturity and resolve behind the wheel, as he crossed the line both times with the red streak of Vettel’s Ferrari filling his mirrors. But despite his successes, he was often well beaten by Hamilton and Vettel to the minor podium places.

    He performed as expected, but in this ruthless sport of Formula One, is that really enough? Riccardo has always looked to push the top teams, genuinely fighting tooth and nail for his podium places in what was often the slower car. But Bottas has only found himself spraying the bubbles on one more occasion than the man they call the Honey Badger.

    Truth told it would be hard for Ricciardo to pass Bottas in the standings, at least without a win, or without Bottas staying off the podium for the rest of the season. But that almost doesn’t matter.

    The onus is now on Bottas to remind of us of the driver he was when he crossed the line in Russia and Austria. Surely to cement his place in the team after next year he must finish third in the championship.

    He has it all to play for. The championship may be decided by the time the F1 circus leaves Mexico, but Bottas has until the last lap of Abu Dhabi to stake his claim as a Mercedes driver. Riccardo may already measuring himself up for a silver racing suit.