Melbourne’s Albert Park grand prix, the traditional Formula One curtain raiser, has been pushed back to April 10 in a record-breaking 23-event calendar for 2022.
While it might have represented a token victory to outsiders, Valtteri Bottas’ success at the season finale was an ideal tonic for the Finn to conclude his first campaign with Mercedes, having emerged from an overemphasised trough following the summer hiatus.
Bottas remarked as much, stating that his third victory on Sunday at Abu Dhabi, was “a really, really important win for me you know, after having a pretty difficult start to the second half of the year.”
It capped a season with the Brackley outfit which hadn’t been contemplated twelve months earlier. While he fell short of earning Mercedes a fourth consecutive 1-2 in the drivers’ standings, the victory ensured that it was worthy of a pass mark.
For what little it counts, Bottas was the only driver to stand on the podium at each of the season’s final three events and registered the most points over that period at 61. This defies the notion that he was out of his depth and provides himself with a foundation to build on in 2018.
As a benefactor of teammate Lewis Hamilton’s setbacks at Mexico and Brazil, the Finn’s brief ascension to lead gunner was invaluable. Despite being forced to settle for second at each, these were timely boosts having gone missing following the European season’s conclusion.
An ultimate haul of thirteen podiums – as many as Sebastian Vettel, and more prominently, the World Champion himself in Hamilton is solid by any account. Failing to place lower than sixth, this consistency allowed Mercedes to ease towards another constructors’ title.
If nothing else, his presence – an infusion of the ubiquitous Finnish diffidence, was a calming influence desperately sought by the German manufacturer following the spite of the Hamilton-Nico Rosberg era. As far as they’re concerned, frequent contention for victories and titles can come later, if not at all then in Hamilton’s stead.
Bottas acknowledged this trope following his triumph at Yas Marina, observing “we Finns, we maybe don’t show emotion, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have it”, as a measure of his relief to have broken through.
The 28-year-old admitted that he must channel “whatever zone I’ve been able to get myself into in qualifying in Brazil, in qualifying yesterday and in the race today”, in order to evolve in 2018, “to find myself in that feelings next year all of the time.”
Having only been renewed by Mercedes for a further twelve months, Bottas will find himself in a similar position of expectation to deliver from the outset as he did entering 2017, with the offset of enjoying a complete pre-season with the knowledge where he’ll be racing.
What Bottas’ year also brought into clarity were Rosberg’s credentials against Hamilton, and if anything validating the toll their rivalry imposed on the German when he elected to retire having finally secured the title following three all-consuming seasons of warfare.
The majority of drivers are only as good as their last performance in Formula One. Allied with a sink or swim climate, and a campaign now under his belt with the slickly oiled machine that is the Silver Arrows, it can be envisaged that Bottas will find the strength to further raise his game in 2018.
Not all drivers can cut it at the highest level when an unforeseen opportunity presents itself. Bottas is one of few to have appreciated the best ride going around and can be proud of the contribution he’s made to sustaining one of the most successful operations witnessed in the sport’s history.
Whatever the future holds, he can reflect on a time of rapid growth and confirmation that he belongs.