Why Valtteri Bottas will always be number two

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    Mercedes are yet again a team with two great drivers, but a one-man show. (Image supplied by AMG Petronas Motorsport).

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    Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari will attempt to take three wins from the first three races this weekend in Shanghai, but no-one is pretending the first two victories were earnt on pure pace alone.

    The Australian Grand Prix has been thoroughly dissected and the timing of the mid-race safety car and an error in the strategy computer have been identified as the cause of Mercedes’s loss.

    The Bahrain Grand Prix is another that got away from the German marque. Not only did the Silver Arrows choose the superior one-stop tyre strategy, exploiting the car’s ease on the medium-compound tyre, but Ferrari was forced to leave Vettel out on worn soft tyres well past their use-by date.

    The German was losing up to two seconds per lap in the final stages of that race compared to the healthy times he set at the start of the stint, and Valtteri Bottas closed the gap at around a second per lap in the final seven tours.

    The win, quite simply, was begging to be taken.

    But the results show Sebastian Vettel took home the 25 points, in no small part thanks to his nous behind the wheel.

    Sebastian Vettel rounds a corner at the Austrian Grand Prix in his Ferrari.

    GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool

    Nursing tyres with a 30-lap shelf life for 39 laps is no easy task, but the German put in a career-best drive to claim the second successive race for the Scuderia.

    However, notwithstanding those defensive heroics, there is another view to the closing stages of the race.

    Bottas had the more ambitious of the Mercedes one-stop strategies – he stopped on lap 20, which would have allowed him to switch to a two-stop race if necessary – but his pace on the mediums 37 laps later was virtually undiminished relative to Vettel.

    Indeed, Mercedes’ superiority on the medium tyre is a talking point in itself. At Sakhir its fastest lap on the white-striped compound was 1 minute 33.740 seconds, which was faster than Vettel’s best time on the quicker soft compound.

    Further, the Mercedes car at this stage of the season appears to be the faster machine, certainly on race pace and especially on the harder range of compounds.

    In all aspects the Mercedes pace advantage over Ferrari by the last lap of the race was immense, and it seemed only a matter of time until Vettel would lose the lead.

    The chase culminated at turn one on lap 57. The gap was less than a second. Bottas had DRS. He slipstreamed right up to the back of the Ferrari’s gearbox. The tension mounted.

    But then he squibbed it.

    Lewis Hamilton drives the Mercedes W09 at a private filming day.

    Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG Petronas

    A look down the inside – not a move; just a look – was all the Finn could muster, and in doing so he put himself off line and out of contention for the rest of the lap and therefore the race.

    It isn’t so much that Bottas couldn’t win the race; rather, it’s that equipped with a faster machine and with a shot at victory on the last lap after a disappointing weekend in Australia he chose not to really try.

    No doubt going through his head was that it wasn’t worth damaging his car in a crash and losing a podium finish – or, worse, retirement – when he would be guaranteed 18 points if he just brought the car home.

    What this line of thinking neglects to consider, however, is that a crash in those circumstances was always unlikely.

    Defensive though Vettel was, the German, knowing he was at an immense disadvantage, would’ve been watching his mirrors at the end of the straight, understanding an attack was most likely there.

    A Bottas dive down the inside would therefore have resulted in one of two outcomes: either he would’ve snatched first place from Vettel, or he would’ve gone wide into the fast run-off area and allowed Vettel to cut back under him to resume the lead, leaving him second.

    The sort of dive-bomb well practised by Daniel Ricciardo, for example, is what was required – indeed Ricciardo’s last-gasp attempt at a podium place at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix springs to mind – and that is exactly the point: where you’d back Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and others to have made a move, Bottas seems to lack overtaking ambition.

    Indeed the Australian said as much ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.

    “I would have tried to win, definitely,” he said. “I wouldn’t be content – if it’s for a win, you just can’t. That’s not in me, at least.”

    Bottas might be a solid manager of the car, but he seems to lack the killer instinct of his peers, and by definition, this ranks Bottas as a number two. There are days he can extract more pace from the sometimes difficult Mercedes car than Lewis Hamilton, but you’d only back one of the two to seal the deal.

    Unfortunately that’s just not Valtteri Bottas.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart - but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Tlux said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      100% agree. But the annoying thing is that Bottas isn’t even a good number two.

      Yes, he’ll probably win 2 races a year whilst in the Merc. And finish 2nd plenty of times in a Mercedes 1-2 when its the dominant car on the weekend.

      But when its crunch time, he always goes missing. It happened a few times last year, Lewis will be leading with Seb and Kimi behind. Bottas will be 5 seconds back in 4th, leaving Hamilton to fight off both the undercut and overcut from the Scuderia, by himself.

      At least Kimi hangs around until the pit window before dropping off the pace.

      • Roar Pro

        April 13th 2018 @ 12:28pm
        anon said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

        Bottas is a great number two.

        He doesn’t challenge Hamilton for wins. Can’t get a better number two than that.

        A bad number two is someone like Button or Rosberg who regularly challenge him for wins.

        • Columnist

          April 13th 2018 @ 1:02pm
          Michael Lamonato said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

          Agree and disagree! I think Bottas is a good number two precisely because he occasionally challenges Hamilton for wins.Admittedly this is often when Hamilton has off days, but a driver who’s being challenged by his teammate tends to perform more strongly more often.

          I think we’re going to learn that with Nico Hulkenberg in particular this year — he’s been a bit lacklustre while paired with Jolyon Palmer, but Carlos Sainz in the other car is really whipping him into shape. Daniel Riccciardo, too, is a better driver for having Max Verstappen challenge him. Neither of these is a number one/numer two driver scenario, but I think the principle is still the same.

          • April 14th 2018 @ 12:07am
            Dexter The Hamster said | April 14th 2018 @ 12:07am | ! Report

            In your season preview, you claimed Sainz would beat Hulk, and I called you on it. Only 2 races in, but are you ready to concede yet…??? 🙂 🙂

            • Columnist

              April 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm
              Michael Lamonato said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              Never! Ha, we’ll see. Hulkenberg has certainly raised his game, let’s see if Sainz can respond. I’m sure he’ll be keeping away from suspect fruit after his Melbourne problems, at very least.

      • Columnist

        April 13th 2018 @ 1:11pm
        Michael Lamonato said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        To be fair, Bottas outscored Raikkonen by 100 points last year.and finished only 12 points behind Vettel.

        • Roar Pro

          April 13th 2018 @ 4:52pm
          anon said | April 13th 2018 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

          Because he was in what was by far the best car.

          • Columnist

            April 14th 2018 @ 1:13pm
            Michael Lamonato said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

            It was not 100 points better. Vettel was in the championship fight until his Singapore and Japanese retirements.

    • Roar Pro

      April 13th 2018 @ 12:26pm
      anon said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

      Bottas has been boosted for years but his results have always been dismal. Had a couple of opportunities to win and get pole with the Williams but couldn’t hold his nerve.

      The reality is he was barely faster than his teammate Felipe Massa who was about 8 years past his prime.

      Massa in 2007-2008 was never in the top echelon. He was never really the same after his 2009 accident, being teammate with Alonso knocked the confidence out of him and by 2016 his skills had atrophied further.

      • Columnist

        April 13th 2018 @ 1:07pm
        Michael Lamonato said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

        Dismal is too strong a word. I still think Bottas is a quick driver who certainly deserves (deserved?) a shot at that Mercedes seat. He didn’t put Massa away regularly, that’s true, but Rob Smedly, even if he isn’t the most impartial commentator, reckoned Felipe had a bit of a resurgence at Williams, having found renewed purpose after being pummeled at and by Ferrari with Fernando Alonso as his teammate. But, again, you’re right to say Bottas should’ve been more consistently ahead as well as further ahead.

        I think Bottas still has a lot to learn about the mental side of things. Being in a top team like Mercedes, which is internally so driven to be the best at everything, is tough, especially when you’re being consistently beaten by your teammate and struggling with the car. Rosberg eventually managed to overcome it for one season, so it’s not out of the question for Bottas, but that’s where I see the difference being.

        • Roar Pro

          April 13th 2018 @ 5:04pm
          anon said | April 13th 2018 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          Hamilton only outscored Rosberg by 16 points in 2013 despite Rosberg suffering 3 retirement to Hamilton’s 1. Don’t forget that Rosberg was ordered to stay behind Hamilton in Malaysia (second race into the partnership pecking order was already established by management) as well.

          In 2014 Rosberg outqualified Hamilton 11-8 and took the fight to the final race despite clear Hamilton favouritism in the team (fining Rosberg 300k Euros for the Spa incident was a disgrace).

          2015 Rosberg was beat fair and square but had poorer reliability. Manned up after Hamilton threw his cap at him in Austin, turned the tables in the final few races and took that momentum into 2016.

          2016 he held a 9 race win to 6 lead going into the final 4 races. He had won 12 of the past 18 Mercedes wins at that stage after Japan 2016.

          The time for excuses being made for Bottas is over imo. The guy is not a top echelon driver and never will be.

          • April 13th 2018 @ 9:15pm
            Simoc said | April 13th 2018 @ 9:15pm | ! Report

            And that is why Hamilton would find Bottas the perfect team mate. Not threatening as Rosberg was but able to take poles and do quick laps. No killer instinct means no WDC for him.
            Such a shame he is not at Williams now. They desperately needed a fast experienced driver in one of their cars this season. The thing is if you put Hamilton in the Williams he might go half a second quicker. With two beginners in the cars you don’t know if they are exploring the cars limitations or competing with each other.

            • Columnist

              April 14th 2018 @ 1:20pm
              Michael Lamonato said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

              Yeah, Williams is in big trouble, and Bottas would’ve been a valuable asset — likewise Felipe Massa and probably Robert Kubica. The team chose money over experience, but is the extra development potential those dollars bring enough to counter having limited technical direction from the drivers? I think the answer by the end of the season will probably be ‘no’.

              What’s particularly interesting about the Williams situation is whether Paddy Lowe can sort the team out. This is his first car with the team, and it’s hardly set the world on fire…

          • Columnist

            April 14th 2018 @ 1:17pm
            Michael Lamonato said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

            I don’t think the Belgium fine was favouritism, it was an overreaction. It was a team that wasn’t prepared for that kind of conflict coming down too hard, and that undid Rosberg mentally, which is part of the reason Hamilton cruised to victory at six of the next seven races.

            You’re right about his 2016 turnaround. He pulled himself together after that defeat, and he’s spoken at length about how he took his mental focus to the next level — it cost him so much energy that he felt he couldn’t do it a second time and retired.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 12:03am
      Dexter The Hamster said | April 14th 2018 @ 12:03am | ! Report

      Michael, you are suggesting that Bo77as (I love a gimmick) will always be a number 2 driver because he doesn’t take that chance to win, but is it possible that he doesn’t that that chance precisely because he is the recognised #2??

      He sees his role in the team as a points gatherer, and whether he has been told that, or its just something he feels I’m not sure. If you are recognised at #2, fighting for your seat in the team, then you are going to feel the pressure to not throw away team points, whereas Lewis (and others) would feel they have free reign to go for a win regardless??

      Just my thoughts.

      • Columnist

        April 14th 2018 @ 1:24pm
        Michael Lamonato said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

        Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that he might’ve felt collecting points was more valuable in his quest for a contract extension than risking a crash in pursuit of victory, but I would be concerned as a team principal if one of my drivers had no appetite for victory beyond cleaning up when the other driver has an off day. Mercedes says it doesn’t deal in preferencing one driver over the other, and I think that’s largely true, so as much as the harmony Bottas has brought to the team has allowed Hamilton to get on with it, will that be enough if Red Bull Racing, with two hungry drivers, challenges for the constructors championship? I wouldn’t have thought so.

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