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Valtteri Bottas has seemingly been reduced to being the number two driver at Mercedes, but the Finn has not always been in the shadow of other drivers. The now 30-year-old was a magnificent talent at Williams but hasn’t shown his true class on a consistent basis at Mercedes since his move in 2017. Could the 2020 season change that?
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Cool Finn on the grid
Just like many Finns, Valtteri managed to put himself on the map by displaying tremendous composure while being wildly successful. The 2009 Formula 3 season was a disappointment, but Bottas still managed to give it a silver lining by winning the Masters of Formula 3, a feat which he repeated the year after, which landed him a gig as Williams’ test driver.
That job didn't stop Bottas from participating in other classes, however, as he competed in GP3 with ART. This time he did take the title, before taking his place on Formula 1 the grid with Williams for the 2013 season.
With Pastor Maldonado as a teammate, it was the Finn who was clearly the quicker driver (also because Bottas didn't crash as often as Maldonado) as Bottas finished ahead of the Venezuelan in his rookie season. The year after, Maldonado was cast aside to make room for Felipe Massa, a driver who complimented Bottas well. The latter took several podiums in 2014 and impressively managed to secure fourth place in the championship in his Williams.
In the years that followed Williams was still a force to be reckoned with. The now more experienced Bottas and his veteran teammate Felipe Massa were well-matched in their Mercedes-powered cars. Nevertheless, the 2016 season was a disappointing one as Williams were reduced to a midfield team again. A life buoy was unexpectedly thrown at Bottas by the Mercedes Benz Formula 1 team.
Big shoes to fill
After Nico Rosberg won the title in 2016, the German almost immediately threw in the towel as he announced his retirement from F1. His relationship with teammate Lewis Hamilton had reached its boiling point and Rosberg wasn’t up for another year of sharing a garage with the Brit. Mercedes suddenly had to replace a star driver and they quickly zeroed in on the extremely cool and calculated Valtteri Bottas. Shortly after announcing his retirement, Felipe Massa decided to return to Williams to fill the place of Bottas while Mercedes got an experienced driver to partner with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
In his first year, Bottas struggled to compete with the dominant Hamilton and became a wingman as the season went on, as Hamilton needed help fighting off Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. The Finn did win three races, his maiden F1 win coming in Russia, and finished third in the championship. 2018 proved to be the low-point of Bottas’ Mercedes career, again struggling to keep up with Hamilton while receiving team orders several times to let the Brit past. Partly because of bad luck and team orders but also partly because of a severe lack of confidence, Bottas ended 2018 with no wins while Hamilton won 11 races.
The Russian Grand Prix team order was the most blatant one as Bottas, who was on his on way to a much needed win was told to let Lewis Hamilton past. He was visibly very angry and emotional after the race.
In 2019 Bottas seemed to be reborn. ‘Bottas 2.0’ and ‘Fear the Beard’ were some of the terms that were thrown around after a dominant win in the season opener in Melbourne. However, Bottas’ success turned out to be short-lived. His contract with Mercedes did get extended, but the title fight with Hamilton was over before it had started. Hamilton still proved too much to handle and beat his teammate comfortably, even though Bottas had the best statistical season of his career with four wins.
Valtteri Bottas in 2020
With a new one-year deal, the pressure is back on for the Mercedes driver in 2020. The Finn has shown himself to be a worthy second driver for Mercedes, but should Hamilton ever leave, Bottas doesn't seem to be the talisman Mercedes need. As a result, Toto Wolff is keeping his options open and Bottas is the only one who can change that. He's the only one who’s able to convince his team that he's good enough, but the question remains whether the Finn has the kind of talent that wins championships.
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