The fifth Mid-Season Review and we have now reached the midfield scrap – what a titanic battle it always proves to be. With Force India and Toro Rosso punching above their weight, the once dominant Williams team have staggered through a turbulent start to their 2013 campaign, claiming only one point from ten races. While Valtteri Bottas is yet to score in his rookie season, the Finn will have taken plenty of positives into the Summer break.
Looking at Valtteri’s statistics, it would be easy to criticize the start of his F1 career. The Finn may sit P17 in the standings, without a point to show for his efforts, yet he does own the mantle of the most successful rookie so far this season. While Jules Bianchi could stake a strong claim for the accolade, Bottas is also deserving of his position above his inexperienced counterparts.
His entrance into Formula One was a peculiar one. After storming to the GP3 title in 2011, Bottas made the transition to F1 immediately after, as he became the Williams reserve driver in 2012. This role offered Valtteri a fantastic opportunity, as it allowed him to acquaint himself to the surroundings of the Williams team, while he was able to develop an understanding of the day to day operations. Meanwhile, his track time provided invaluable experience, as Bottas notched up no less than 15 FP1 sessions throughout the season. Consequently, expectations were high as Valtteri was confirmed for the 2013 race seat, but after a season out of competitive racing, it was his race craft which was always set to be scrutinized.
Fortunately for Williams, Valtteri is yet to demonstrate these possible weaknesses, as he has driven impeccably throughout the first ten races. It is difficult to recall a single moment where he has made an unforced error on track, as he has come through several intense battles unscathed. The lack of competitive action in 2012 has not diminished the racer within Bottas.
Meanwhile, Pastor Maldonado has failed to prove himself worthy of the number one spot within the team. The Venezuelan has been frequently outqualified by Bottas – most notably at the opening round of the season in Australia. In addition to this, Pastor has not followed Bottas’ lead in terms of faultless performances, as a decidedly rookie mistake in the first race of the season curtailed his progress. Valtteri’s presence seems to have challenged Maldonado’s standing within the team to a greater extent than Bruno Senna managed in 2012.
In terms of race results, Bottas has undoubtedly struggled in what is a pedestrian FW35. His best finish came during the Malaysian Grand Prix, where the Finn narrowly missed out on his and the team’s first point, as he finished a mere 1.5s behind the fortunate Jean-Eric Vergne. Zero scored at this stage would have marked a disastrous start to Valtteri’s season, when he first planned the objectives for his rookie season. However, when his results are compared with Pastor’s, it is certainly a brighter outlook – Bottas has outraced Maldonado at five of the ten events in 2013. A sizable feat considering the experience that one-time race winner Pastor Maldonado has at his disposal.
However, the most notable success and most promising moment in Bottas’ first season so far came on a wet Saturday in Montreal. Treacherous conditions has plagued both Friday and Saturday running, but the typical Red Bull vs Mercedes dice was still expected for the Pole Position. While Maldonado fell at the Q2 stage, in an admittedly respectable P13, Bottas quietly progressed into the final part of qualifying. He once again exceeded expectations in the shootout, clocking a sublime 1:25.897 to claim a miraculous P3 on the gird. According to Bottas’ column in this months ‘F1 Racing Magazine’, a surprised Vettel and Hamilton exclaimed, “what are you doing here”, when Valtteri arrived at the illustrious Parc Ferme for the official top three photograph. While Sunday failed to yield points, Valtteri demonstrated the natural talent which he possesses in abundance.
The rest of Bottas’ season should be designated to extending his learning. Now that he is fully adjusted to the life of an F1 driver, the second half of the season is about improving feedback, maximizing on track potential and beating Maldonado even more frequently. Williams may well have discovered a hidden gem in Valtteri Bottas and one can only hope that he is provided with the right machinery to demonstrate his array of talents in the future.