His fifth season racing for Mercedes AMG Petronas couldn’t have started off worse. The Finnish driver has had to retire from two of the first five races of the 2021 campaign and now stands fourth in the Championship, 58 points behind leader Max Verstappen.
Two weeks ago, at the Monaco GP, the entire grid gained one place after a driveshaft issue prevented pole-sitter Charles Leclerc from starting the race. Bottas was running for second place but was forced to retire when a wheel nut issue prevented his front-right tyre from being changed during a pit stop on lap 29.
This is by far the worst start to a season since 2017 when the Finn joined Mercedes. It is enough to think that last year, after five races, Bottas was sitting at 73 points, second in the Championship.
Bottas’ contract is due to expire at the end of this year and it is no secret that Mercedes might be thinking of replacing him with young talent George Russell. Given the current situation, he does not appear to be in a place to expect renewal.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has often highlighted the importance of driver's mental strength and resilience. Bottas himself revealed that during the off-season he underwent "extreme" preparations to get himself in the right mindset.
This, however, has not prevented detractors from regularly questioning Bottas’ ability to fight for an F1 title during his time with Mercedes as he battles with seven-time world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton.
During the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, Toto Wolff disclosed that one of the tactics is encouraging employees to have a photo of their rival in a very visible spot to act as motivation.
"You could place a photo of that person in the calendar or on the desk, and every time there is a little lack of motivation, you look at these people," Wolff explained.
"Everyone is free to do it. Of the people I work with, I keep seeing such photos pop out. It's good. It's called enemy building, and it's a powerful psychological weapon.
"As for myself, I have two photos that I always carry with me and that are on my desktop. Neither of the two people has anything to do with Formula 1 or with racing altogether. It's about business."
Following Wolff's revelations, Motorsport.com asked Bottas whether he used a similar trick with his direct F1 rivals.
"I don't carry a picture of Lewis or Max in my pocket," Bottas replied.
However, he does use the picture approach in his own way. He explained: "I have one, actually inspired by the chats with Toto last year,"
"I have one thing on my computer, a desktop picture, that is a motivation to me every time I open the computer. It's not really a positive thing. It's a negative thing that always reminds me to show them what I can do."
Bottas would not reveal what the picture was, saying: "I won't tell you".
This weekend's Baku Grand Prix will be Bottas attempt to repeat his pole and victory from 2019 when F1 last visited Azerbaijan. Who knows if the picture will be the extra push he needed.