Column | Will the replacement of Bottas be seen as a mistake?

20-10-2021 12:00
Column
Column | Will the replacement of Bottas be seen as a mistake?

Brought in after 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement, Valtteri Bottas has been an integral member of the Mercedes Formula 1 team in recent years. After his tenth win out at the Turkish Grand Prix 2021, we take a look back at his performances to see if Mercedes would regret their decision of not renewing his tenure at the team.

Bottas performances

Coming up against a driver like Lewis Hamilton is always a difficult task, yet he took it head on. Not allowing the noise get to him, he frequently was able to put his head down and focus on his side of the garage. He understood what was required of him after his winless 2018 season by securing a dominant win in Australia and thoroughly beating his points tally in that season. However, even though he has put on strong performances, he has been seen to occasionally slip back from expectation, underdeliver and have an air of dejectedness about him. Thus, a seesaw of form had come to show from Bottas, with many doubting if he could hold his own on a consistent basis for the Mercedes F1 team.

Yet it seems that the Finn has found a new vigour when driving, after his announcement to joining Alfa Romeo. Since Monza he’s been on an incredible run, claiming a total of 58 points in comparison to title favourite Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen with 35 and 38 respectively. He seems to be a man re-energised, ready to take on a final charge and help secure another world constructor’s championship for the team.

What he brought to the team

As a driver, Bottas has been able to be a safe pair of hands, if not an invaluable asset for Mercedes. He’s been able to mount his own challenges against his teammate and rivals without being a consistent liability to a points scoring finish on a weekend. On his off days, he would still play an important team role, supporting by holding up on track rivals or moving aside to help the team secure a stronger points finish.

It’s also undoubtedly true that Bottas had a hand in the car’s development. A concerted effort from both drivers to share information would have allowed the silver arrows to push so far in front of the pack for so many years. Key handling information would have been brought from the Finn to help fix and improve car design as well as philosophy to ensure that both drivers could put their full faith in the machinery. Perhaps a recurring fear may have marked his dip in form. With one year contracts being the only form of extension offered to him, he may have felt like he never had the full support of the team around him. Nevertheless, such is conjecture, as we will never have full information of workings behind closed doors.

Overall

Removing Bottas was not an easy decision for the team. To disrupt a lineup which has brought them success for so many years opens the door for inconsistency to make its mark. Underperformance was occasional, not a regular occurrence. Plus, compliance is not guaranteed from Bottas’ replacement, George Russell. The Mercedes prodigy will likely be wanting to push his new machine to the absolute limit and get in amongst the action for races in 2022 and beyond. It is likely that mistakes will occur, as it always takes time to truly bed in decision-making and aggression behind the wheel. While they may look fondly back upon Bottas’ efforts, they will not regret their decision. It was necessary to train a successor to the Mercedes throne and lead them into the future of Formula One. Apt timing too, with Hamilton in the form of his life with incredible knowledge and experience able to teach a highly regarded young driver.

Public perception needed to be solidified as well. Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon were two valuable members of the Mercedes junior program, but were both inevitably snubbed in order to ensure stability in the team. However, some may have had the impression that if Russell - who impressed many with his one-off in Sakhir 2020 - was unable to claim a seat at the top team, no one in the future really would. There would have also been a concern of him being poached by other teams, eager to bring the talent within their stables and build the team around him.

In the end, the decision was really to bring in Russell, not to remove Bottas. One hopes for a stronger future for the flying Finn at his new stable, Alfa Romeo, where he can become a team leader and push the team to new heights.

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