Nine podiums, 411 points and a fastest lap so far, but Valtteri Bottas’ stats could be about to head stratospheric, as the Finn joins the team has provided the benchmark to their competition over the past three seasons.
Bottas has big shoes to fill, entering the team as Nico Rosberg’s replacement and taking the hotseat alongside Lewis Hamilton. Arguably, the hardest driver to partner on the grid, given his relentless speed and seismic personality.
2017 will be a season that either makes or breaks Valtteri Bottas’ F1 career.
I mentioned in the title that this would be a “first thoughts” article, and it is precisely that. No doubt there will be plenty of Bottas-related conversation between now and Melbourne. No structure to this one – just reaction.
This is one of the biggest driver moves in recent times. Daniil Kvyat’s abrupt removal from the Red Bull seat and Max Verstappen’s subsequent promotion was huge news because of the timing. We all knew Verstappen was destined for Red Bull, it was simply a matter of when.
Heading into 2016 many were asking the question as to whether Bottas was becoming another Hulkenberg. Another highly rated driver, showing great promise in the midfield but always being either caught off balance during the driver market shuffle or just not being quite as good as the other option on the table.
When Bottas was announced at Williams for 2017, I mentioned how it was great news for the team, but it was again another uninspiring decision for Valtteri. No doubt, Williams would have been the best card in his hand but he would hardly have had a royal flush to play with.
Rosberg’s shock retirement opened the door for him. A golden opportunity to steal a top line drive while his rival drivers are all tied up under immovable contract shackles.
That’s not to do Bottas a disservice. His time at Williams has featured some hugely impressive drives. Not to mention what I feel was the best drive of his career, when he held off none other than Lewis Hamilton during the closing stages of the 2014 German Grand Prix.
Heck, even Rosberg couldn’t hold off Hamilton in equal machinery quite as effectively as Bottas did on that day in history.
Problem is, Bottas cannot afford to ease his way into his opportunity. Those aforementioned rival drivers – the likes of Alonso, Vettel etc – will be keen to nab the Mercedes drive assuming they continue their form. Bottas only has a one year contract, with an option to extend if Mercedes feel he has lived up to the billing.
In short, if Bottas endures a tough 2017, he will surely be booted out of Brackley after one season. The stakes are high.