Hailed by his former Formula Renault 2.0 boss, Timo Rumpfkeil, as an “exceptional natural talent,” Valtteri Bottas certainly has his admirers. Conversely, some have been heavily critical of Mercedes’ decision to hire the Finn as Nico Rosberg’s replacement, and having been signed on a one-year contract, it seems that the jury is even out among the boardroom of his new employers.
Skeptics should read on. Here are the top five races of Bottas’ F1 career. Five reasons why Mercedes should have little to fear regarding their new recruit heading into 2017.
5. 2016 Canadian Grand Prix
By their own admission, 2016 was a tough year for Williams. Expectations were lofty heading into the campaign, given that they had managed to lock down third in the Constuctors’ standings in the past two seasons. But, with Red Bull resurgent and Force India hitting their best ever form, Williams were left looking decidedly average.
They only had one sniff of the podium in 2016. Taking a top three finish in a tricky campaign is always more challenging than in a season where opportunities come thick and fast. Bottas dealt well with the pressure of knowing that champagne chances were few and far between.
Williams managed to navigate the Red Bull’s with a smart strategy and while Bottas was fortunate that a battle with the recovering Nico Rosberg was cut short following a puncture for the German, the Finn was at his ice-cool best all afternoon. Soaking up pressure in trademark Bottas fashion. A trait that will permeate this list.
Third place his reward – his best result of the season – and Williams’ only top three finish all year.
4. 2015 Mexican Grand Prix
2015 was a strange year for Bottas. After Williams had returned to pre-eminence in 2014, their 2015 season failed to reach that high-bar established the year before. You could not help but feel that neither Bottas nor teammate Felipe Massa were quite on the same form either.
Bottas’ critics had interpreted the Finn’s calm and collected track demeanor as an inability to aggressively fight for position. Bottas’ podium appearance in Mexico – his second rostrum of the season – was owed to an ambitious and decidedly borderline move on his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen.
Raikkonen declined to cede the position heading into turn five and with Bottas also unwilling to back down in the tussle, the two made contact. Ferrari were left facing a rare double retirement. Bottas was headed for the podium, having sent a strong message to his rivals both on the circuit and in the press room.
3. 2014 British Grand Prix
You just knew that 2014 races would feature high on this list. Bottas’ best season to date and Williams’ best season since 2003, the year had so many high points. The Finn’s charge at Silverstone was nothing short of sensational.
Following an awkward qualifying Saturday where the British weather made many esteemed strategists look like the work experience kids, Bottas and teammate Massa lined up in 17th and 18th. However, the former was unperturbed.
On Sunday, he carved his way through the field, with a recovery drive that even eclipsed the determination of Lewis Hamilton on home turf. A great start was followed by decisive overtaking moves aplenty, the most memorable of which coming on Jenson Button around the outside at Stowe corner.
Superb race craft, once again demonstrated by the man becoming the paddock’s hottest property. A well earned second place.
2. 2013 US Grand Prix
If 2016 was difficult, 2013 was positively disastrous for Williams. Pat Symonds had been parachuted into Grove mid-season in an attempt to salvage what was a team low on morale and struggling desperately to find a technical direction.
In a season where the coanda exhaust effect – otherwise known as blown exhausts – had been critical to performance, Williams only developed their advanced version of this package ahead of the US Grand Prix, just two races from the end of the season.
Having suitably scored the square-root of nothing as the paddock rolled into Austin, it had been a baptism of fire for Bottas in what was his rookie season. When the chance for points arrived, however, the Finn was ready to upstage former race-winner and teammate Pastor Maldonado to deliver his maiden points.
A gritty performance saw Bottas come home in eighth place. He nabbed four points and jumped Maldonado in the points table, who on the day, could only manage 17th.
1. 2014 German Grand Prix
Bottas’ talent was widely accepted before the 2014 German Grand Prix, but it was on that Sunday at Hockenheim, when he successfully held off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes throughout the closing stages that confirmed his position among F1’s top young drivers.
Several factors combined to make his second place finish so significant. Sure, Bottas’ task of keeping Hamilton behind was made easier by Williams’ awe-inspiring straight line speed, but one false move would have signaled the end of the fight.
Bottas had to make sure that he delivered optimum traction out of turn two each and every lap, across a ten lap period, to keep the Brit at bay. He had to harvest throughout the rest of the lap and ensure that his battery was ready for deployment when he most needed it. To cope with these strategy factors and demonstrate this supreme race craft under such intense pressure to claim what was only his third podium was immense.
He had one of F1’s finest filling his mirrors for what must have felt like an eternity and he stood firm. Hamilton was beaten and Bottas was excellent value for his second consecutive P2 finish.
One of the best drives of 2014. Period.
If you don’t believe Bottas can go toe-to-toe against Hamilton, Germany 2014 should be enough to make you reconsider.
Have I missed any out? Let me know your thoughts on Bottas’ best drives in either the comments section below or on Twitter (@KGibbsGP)