Here's why Mercedes should make 2021 Valtteri Bottas' last season at the team...

08-11-2020 20:00
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Here's why Mercedes should make 2021 Valtteri Bottas' last season at the team...

Valtteri Bottas has been the perfect driver for Mercedes since he joined the team in 2017. He’s competitive, determined, but also a great team player, making him the perfect support act for Lewis Hamilton. However, Mercedes should seriously think about making 2021 the Finn’s final year with the team.

When Nico Rosberg dramatically retired just days after winning the Formula 1 title in 2016, Mercedes were in a bit of a sticky situation. The team had just gone through a bitter year of battle between teammates Rosberg and Hamilton, and now they had to replace one of their drivers at short notice.

While the Mercedes seat was by far the most coveted in F1, the team were looking for a certain type of driver. They didn’t want a repeat of 2016 and more confrontation, which is often only detrimental to a team’s performance.

Mercedes academy talent Pascal Wehrlein was considered, but with just a year of experience in F1 with Manor, he was deemed too young. The answer was with Williams and Bottas, who took advantage of the unexpected opening to join the team.

2017 gave us a taste of things to come at Mercedes. Hamilton was the clear number one, with Bottas an excellent number two. The Finn has won nine races in the almost four seasons since he joined the team, whilst Hamilton has taken a mammoth 40 Grand Prix victories.

But that’s been enough for Mercedes to keep him around. On his day he’s quick enough beat Hamilton and he’s shown that several times, but he’s never been able to sustain it and keep up with his teammate over an entire season.

That’s what Mercedes want. They want someone to keep Hamilton on his toes, keep him sharp, focused and hungry. We all know that over a season, Hamilton will beat Bottas 95% of the time, but Hamilton knows there is a chance Bottas could sneak a title, just like Rosberg did in 2016.

Hamilton has been so ruthless since missing out in 2016. Every chance he’s been given has been snatched and his hard work has been shown by the amount of records he’s taken recently and that’s partly down to the pressure put on him by Bottas.

Bottas has been able to be Hamilton’s right hand man on several occasions when the Brit is battling others for the title. Hamilton was able to rely on Bottas when he was battling Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and 2018, with Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen a little less bothered by his teammate’s cause.

And in 2019 and 2020, Bottas has been able to be a middle ground between Hamilton and Max Verstappen, who has so often been outnumbered by the Mercedes’ duo as his teammate struggles down the order. Vettel and Verstappen may well have fallen short against Hamilton anyway, but Bottas was able to challenge them when Hamilton couldn’t. He took points away from them with several podium finishes and has always been willing to play the team game.

Team orders in F1 have always been controversial, and the subject came around again after the Russian GP in 2018. Hamilton was coming under pressure from title rival Vettel, so Mercedes ordered race leader Bottas to let his teammate through.

Of course, Bottas had every right to say no and fight for the win, but he accepted that he wasn’t in title contention, so let Hamilton go. And he did this at a time when a win would’ve been exactly what he needed, having not taken a victory all season.

Deservedly, Bottas was recently given a contract at the team for 2021. But for all the positives Bottas brings Mercedes, there’s a strong argument to make 2021 his last season at the team.

Don’t take the wrong message from this, Bottas is a superb driver, but he’s not spectacular. One man who has the potential to be spectacular is Mercedes junior George Russell. The young Brit is in his second year in F1 with Williams and is impressing lots of onlookers, despite not scoring a point yet.

If you’re not convinced by Russell, don’t forget that Lando Norris also has ties with Mercedes. He’s been in great form with McLaren, although his plight to get into a quicker car is not as desperate as the Williams driver’s.

Russell is not the finished article, as shown by his mistake at Imola, throwing away what could have been his maiden points. He’s not quite ready to be put into the best car on the grid, but eventually, Mercedes are going to have to promote him or he could look elsewhere.

He’s been extremely patient at Williams, the worst car on the grid ever since he made his debut. Russell’s place at the team in 2021 has recently been confirmed and his performances are improving all the time, especially in qualifying. The 2018 Formula 2 champion seems happy at Williams for now, but there will come a time where he wants a move to a team higher up the grid, with Mercedes his obvious goal.

Mercedes won’t want Russell’s progress to stagnate with the backmarkers. Toto Wolff’s team has already seen two promising young talents fade under their guidance. After missing out at Mercedes in 2017, Wehrlein left the sport at the end of that season and has never returned, despite being a very exciting young prospect.

And the second is Esteban Ocon, who was brilliant for Force India in 2017 and 2018, but a year out of the sport has stunted his development, resulting in a frustrating 2020 season with Renault. Russell is arguably the most talented of the three, so Mercedes will not want to take the risk of him losing his shine.

It would also make sense for Russell to spend a season alongside Hamilton. Think of all the tips and tricks Russell could learn from Hamilton, knowledge that would set him up to replace his fellow countryman and take over as team leader when Hamilton eventually retires.

Although Hamilton hasn’t signed for 2021 yet, there’s a strong chance he will stay with the team to see in the new-age cars in 2022. This means that Bottas is the more likely man to get the boot from Mercedes, to allow Russell to come through the ranks and show his ability at the front.

Bottas has already enjoyed four seasons at F1’s best team. He’s been extremely useful to Mercedes and he’ll deservedly get a fifth year in 2021, but that ought to be his last.

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