As we approach Hungary, Valtteri Bottas knows that he still has to show he warrants his place in next year’s W11 with Mercedes (we can certainly assume the 2020 challenger will be titled in this predictably consistent way). However, Bottas is up against Lewis Hamilton – the reigning 5-time world champion who has ‘cleared his calendar’ to be ready for the Hungarian GP so what chance does Bottas realistically have?
Valtteri Bottas is a very good racing driver, after all he has already won at Melbourne and Azerbaijan this season whilst the much favoured Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are yet to claim a single victory for the tifosi. Yes, Valtteri Bottas is a very good racing driver - but Lewis Hamilton is an exceptional one.
Much has been written about the fact that there is no tension in the Mercedes garage which differs to the ‘relationship’ Nico Rosberg and Hamilton had. Although, that tension brought Rosberg the title so maybe that is half of Bottas’ issue to begin with.
It is quite simple, apart from the moulded seats of the cars – the W10s are identical machines. Strategy can only play so much of a part as can a tweak of front wing here and there. There is no disputing the fact that Hamilton drives the W10 better, more consistently and with more ease. It is for this reason, that when the reigning champ had a 50 second pitstop to replace his nose and fell down the order – as happened at the Hockenheimring – it was crucial for Valtteri Bottas to deliver and unfortunately he didn’t due to being caught out by track conditions and colliding into the barrier.
Due to the demotion of Alfa Romeo, Lewis Hamilton scored 2 unlikely World Championship points which further increased his lead on Bottas at the top of the drivers’ title and in doing so kept his run of point scoring going. There is no hiding the fact that last Sunday was a really miserable day for Bottas in Germany.
Meanwhile, just behind Lewis Hamilton on Sunday was Robert Kubica now celebrating the unlikeliest of world championship points (Alfa Romeo appeal decision pending which was lodged today) from the ‘Armageddon’ of the German GP – to borrow Toto Wolff’s choice of word. Prior to this, George Russell had comfortably been outperforming Kubica and we have heard many comments from the much loved Pole returning to the main F1 grid that the two Williams cars are very different.
Williams know all too well the situation of a teammate being determined that a car is considerably different as shown by the relationship between Riccardo Patrese and the 1992 F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell. Mansell dominated the ’92 season winning nine of the 16 races in his legendary Williams-Renault FW14B. Hamilton has dominated 2019 with 7 victories from 11 races.
Back in 1992, Riccardo Patrese was consistently the slower teammate in a similar way to Valtteri Bottas’ plight at Mercedes and desperate for any edge over his teammate. So much so, that one day Williams Technical Director at the time Patrick Head asked Mansell how he was so much quicker through a chicane. Mansell’s response was;
‘I jam my hands against the rim of the chassis, so the steering wheel can’t kick back and that keeps a much straighter line.’’
Upon hearing this, Patrese tried it out on track – returning to the pits a mere three laps later with blood pouring from his knuckles having skinned them along the cockpit. Obviously, this was a ruse by Mansell but Patrese was willing to try and believe anything to better his teammate.
Sometimes in Formula 1 there comes a time when a teammate is just better than the other, considerably better. However, for a driver to acknowledge that – well, they would not be on the grid if they were in the habit of doing such things.
Valtteri Bottas must surely win this Sunday to remain with Mercedes in 2020.
That is pressure.
That is a challenge.
That would show his bosses he belongs in the W11 after all.
So, over to you Valtteri - good luck!