The 2017 Russian Grand Prix has brought with it the rise of Valtteri Bottas from ‘driver’ to ‘race winner’ — a promotion of sorts on the Formula 1 grid, following his mega promotion to Mercedes this year. It seems that Bottas is really riding a wave of good fortune — in four races at Mercedes, he has matched the number of podium appearances he made in two seasons with Williams.
I must confess that I was delighted to see Bottas hold on till the very end (despite a strong challenge from Sebastian Vettel) to take his maiden victory. We saw Bottas go from 'hero to zero' in Bahrain a fortnight ago, luckily this weekend had a fairytale ending in store. This win takes Bottas into a exclusive club of just five Finnish drivers who have won F1 races, including three world champions Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen. Not bad company for a 28-year-old, I’d say.
It’s about time
Bottas’ maiden win comes after 81 race starts in F1. Rewinding back a little, he joined F1 as a test driver for Williams, claiming his race seat with the seat in 2013. That means that his last race victory in motorsport came in the GP3 series 2011, a long time for a driver to go winless. Tellingly, one of Bottas’ first reactions on the team radio after his win was along the lines of ‘finally, this has taken me a while’ — clearly, the fact that he hadn’t won a race yet had been playing massively on his mind.
The last time we saw a new race winner crowned in Formula 1, it was the prodigal Max Vestappen in Monaco last year. Before that, we had Daniel Ricciardo (2014) and Nico Rosberg and — wait for it — Pastor Maldonado in 2012. The point I am trying to make is that a new race winner is a special event for the sport, something that does not even happen every season. Surely Bottas will remember and cherish this moment for his entire lifetime, as will the record books.
I was especially pleased with how Bottas managed to not crack under the generous serving of pressure that Vettel piled on in the second stint through to the ending. Bottas must have seen the scarlet car looming in his mirrors, growing increasingly larger with every passing lap. Even so, he remained calm and steadfast — crucial qualities for any racing car driver — and ones that will surely be put to the test repeatedly in the season ahead. In fact, this win will only bolster his confidence and will reflect positively in his mental makeup.
Cool on track, and off it
While some may be surprised by the outcome of Sunday’s race (let’s be fair, how many could have predicted this?) but Bottas has been mighty all weekend. His long runs in FP2 were the best, he fairly beat teammate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying and pretty much didn’t put a foot wrong all race. His blockbuster start (which essentially won him the race) was confident and aggressive — and to be honest, a little unexpected from the man we’ve seen slotted as the No 2 driver. It would have surely made Mercedes sit up and take notice, especially since the team has been dogged by poor starts.
Apart from his on-track brilliance, this weekend had some ‘cool’ bits of Bottas’ personality shine through. He pulled off a Kimi Raikkonen-style radio message (asking for ‘less talking’ from the team) and left Vladimir Putin stumped with his witty retort. Glad to know that he’s been learning from his compatriot on how to rise in the F1 popularity stakes. I also found out that he had a dog named Rubens Barichello, in case you still needed any evidence for his outlandish sense of humour.
No longer driver No 2?
I am waiting to see how this race win changes the dynamics in the Mercedes garage. Hamilton, who has been happily perching the numero uno status, may feel the heat for the first time. When was the last time he finished so far back from his teammate — 36 seconds off? Bottas has also beaten him in qualifying in the last two races. It will be interesting to see how Hamilton bounces back in Spain.
Mercedes had said right at the start of the season that Bottas has four races to prove himself (and prove that he’s worthy of the seat). This victory comes in his fourth race for the team — bang on target. Bottas will be a relieved man, as will be Toto Wolff, seeing that his protégé has come through. I was rather tickled by Eddie Jordan asking, or rather, demanding a three-year extension for Bottas from Mercedes. Hilarious stuff! It’s too early for loose talk, but with a few more strong performances like these, Bottas could start letting himself get snug in his Mercedes seat.
Suddenly, I am hearing chatter about Bottas being yet another contender for this year’s title. Frankly, I find it rather fickle because when he was ordered to let Hamilton through, he was slotted and written off. It is far too early into the season to make any definite wagers on Bottas’ results. I do think the strategy made famous by his predecessor Nico Rosberg, the ‘one race at a time’ approach will work well for Bottas.
Published Date: May 01, 2017 13:56 PM | Updated Date: May 01, 2017 13:59 PM