Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes

2017 F1 season

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Mercedes’ decision to promote Valtteri Bottas to its second seat alongside Lewis Hamilton was greeted with groans by some.

Bottas is seen as the safe option: a known quantity who is unlikely to produce a surprise and tackle the three-times world champion. But this is flawed reasoning: Bottas has a better chance of taking the fight to Hamilton than many of the other realistic candidates for the seat.

Valtteri Bottas biography
The key word here is ‘realistic’. It’s not hard to see why many wished to see Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel get the gig. Who wouldn’t want to see a pair of multiple champions going up against each other for the 2017 title?

Appealing though they were, neither option was ever likely to come about. Vettel and Alonso are each locked into the final year of their current deals with Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Complaining that Bottas has been chosen instead of them is futile.

Nor is Bottas viewed as an exciting driver in the way Max Verstappen or even Carlos Sainz Jnr is. But this is partly a matter of circumstances.

Williams drivers cannot afford to be risk-takers the way Red Bull’s quartet can. The team’s position in the constructors’ championship is too important.

Bottas understands this, having been part of the fabric of Williams since 2009. He understood what the team expected of him when he was promoted to the race squad in 2013 and has delivered it while steadily raising his game.

Williams did not need another Pastor Maldonado, fast but prone to the kind of sloppy errors and crashes which would embarrass a GP3 driver. What they needed was speed and dependability.

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When Bottas made his debut for Williams they hadn’t finished in the top three of the constructors’ championship for a decade – a statistic which would have once been unthinkable for the former champions. A tie-up with Mercedes presented the opportunity to change that.

It’s beyond doubt that Bottas hit that brief: he was their top points-scorer every season. Williams would not have beaten vastly richer rivals like Ferrari in 2014 or Red Bull in 2015 had he not qualified strongly, raced cleanly and converted his points-scoring opportunities.

Bottas served Williams better than the 14-year veteran of the sport in the team’s other car. By how much? Over 100 points more during his three years alongside Felipe Massa.

Bottas grabbed a chance to beat Hamilton in 2014
Complain about his ‘conservatism’ if you like, but it would be foolish to ignore the reality of life in the midfield for an independent team. It’s easy to forget how regular his podium appearances were in mid-2014, sometimes at the expense of quicker cars. Presented with a rare opportunity beat a Mercedes scalp he seized it, leading Hamilton home at the Hockenheimring.

Williams praised Bottas as a quick learner with a strong work ethic. They were especially impressed at how diligently he endeavoured not to repeat his mistakes – something which is not his new team mate’s greatest strength.

But Hamilton should perhaps be more concerned about the threat Bottas could pose in qualifying. Even in the era of DRS and designed-to-degrade tyres, starting from pole position has remained the surest route to victory. With harder tyres and bigger wings that is likely to be the case again this year. And Bottas has the potential to rival Hamilton’s one-lap pace.

Last year Bottas had the strongest record of any driver against his team mate. Over three years his overall record against Massa was a remarkable 41-18. There’s no doubt Hamilton is a much tougher yardstick to be held against, but Bottas looks more likely than many to measure up.

Hamilton’s last Finnish team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, did not fare so well. But don’t make the mistake of assuming the same will be true of Bottas.

2017 F1 season

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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66 comments on “Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes”

  1. I think Bottas was Verstappen-like reputation in 2013-14 after his monstrous qualifying at Canada 2013 and very strong season 2014. Surely he is not new and exciting for many, but I don’t think he should be underestimated.

    I think it’s foolish to compare Bottas and Kovalainen. Many people seems to do that. Kovalainen wasn’t nowhere ready for a top seat with such little experience and whole McLaren squad was standing behind Hamilton. Big rule changes are coming, so Hamilton’s knowledge of previous years’ Mercedes cars probably won’t help him much and Toto Wolff has been Bottas’ manager for a long time, so fair treatment between the two should be ensured. I also think Bottas has more natural talent than Kovalainen ever had.
    Will Bottas beat Hamilton in 2017? Probably not, but I think he’ll be closer to Hamilton than many tend to think. And from 2018 onwards he will be a real threat to everyone.

    1. *Bottas had Verstappen-like

    2. I remember reading the “experts” back then who were critical of Renault for hiring Fisichella instead of Kovalainen as he was the fast and furious young rookie for the 2006 season. He did nothing to back up his reputation. Lets hope for the sake of interesting races that Bottas doesnt fall into the same category

    3. “but I think he’ll be closer to Hamilton than many tend to think.” Absolutely. People said Hamilton would destroy Jenson, then Rosberg, but it never happened. The truth is that at this level, such a level of dominance against a teammate is rare (I think only Fernando accomplished it against Massa in the past decade). Hence why it almost doesnt happen. Bottas got this far because he’s no slouch, and being in a championship winning car would probably motivate him to push that little bit harder. Which is good, we need a proper fight at the front. Plus I think having his teammate challenge him will bring out the best in Hamilton. If the ‘Bulls are in it too we could be in for a 2010 style season.
      Its also going to be curious to see what Hamilton does (off track). He tried mind games against Rosberg multiple times in the past, but Bottas is even more inflappable.

      1. @ JackL
        “such a level of dominance against a teammate is rare (I think only Fernando accomplished it against Massa in the past decade)”

        I think you’re forgetting about Alonso-Räikkönen in 2014, when Alonso almost outscored his team mate 3:1. Alonso-Massa was always close to 2:1, worst score for Massa was 122:278 in 2012, still better than 1:2.3

    4. +1

      Kovalainen was probably the worst driver I’ve seen in a top car (apart from those short and embarassing Badoer and Fisichella appearances in the 2009 Ferrari, which was pretty much undrivable), who took his only win in a race when Hamilton and Massa retired

      Bottas is a good driver, who beat a team-mate that, on his prime, beat the much-praised Raikkonen.

    5. Bottas will be back at Williams in 2018 and won’t be much of a threat to anyone there.

  2. I think people are linking the perceived conservatism of Bottas as a driver with his lack of personality. I have some sympathy for this view, as much as I respect him as a driver he’s just not very charismatic.

    1. Kovalainen was a Finn with more personality. Didn’t make him a championship contender whilst driving a championship winning car.

      1. A Finn with no personality whatsoever is the most popular driver currently. Valtteri appears to be a genuinely nice chap who comes across really well in interviews and people say he is boring.

        Go figure.

        1. A Finn, who had several model girlfriends (simultaneously), who still is the only driver to smoke, who just walked away when fed up with lotus, who fell drunk of a boat and who raced a speedboat dressed as a bear while calling himself James Hunt surely has a lack of personality.
          Go figure.

          1. @verstappen, mind you, a lot of those antics are what Kimi used to do some time ago – it’s a strange thing that people still have an image of Kimi based on what he was doing about a decade ago, even though he has changed his behaviour quite a bit since then (especially since the birth of his son about two years ago).

            I’d also point out that Kimi didn’t walk out of Lotus just because he was fed up with them – it was because they were technically in breach of contract because they had failed to pay him for most of that year, which is a fairly significant issue (would you continue to work for free if your company stopped paying you?), not to mention that he had fallen out with the team because he felt he was no longer getting the lead driver status that was stipulated in his contract.

          2. Pretty certain it was a gorilla.

          3. A bear? wasn’t it a gorilla?

            Great comment, lol, but don’t forget the ice-cream!

      2. I didn’t say I agree with that view, but generally people do not find Bottas interesting. Nice guy though.

  3. Bottas is a really good fit for Mercedes. Ironically he had four years at Williams before moving there, which is what Nico Rosberg had too. There’s still some areas I think he needs to work on, but I can’t see why he can’t go and develop further than he already has done. If Hamilton does go through a patch of poor performances (which is not out of the question), then Bottas will almost certainly pounce on it.

    1. Hamilton needs a team mate that will show him up if he doesn’t perform, and that is exactly why Bottas is a good choice.
      I guess Toto will find himself managing a few more drivers by the end of this year.

  4. Couldn’t have said it better really.

  5. I’m not expecting +0.013 or +0.077 or +0.042 differences between pole and second in 2017. Unless of course its an all Red Bull front row!

    1. Russia 2014 Qualifying. Canada 2013 Qualifying.

      When Bottas has a good car under him, he can really push it. I’d give him a few rounds to get used to it, then start to see those gaps again.

      1. Against Hamilton I think he’ll on average be just over a tenth slower at best.

  6. Leave him alone he knows what he’s doing! :-)

  7. Will Bottas still be there in 2018. I did not see how long his contract is for? But in 2018 Vettel and Alonso will be available!

  8. I agree about a few points mentioned about Bottas, such as his consistency of delivering solid performances for Williams that helped them finish in front of Ferrari and Red Bull in 2014 and 2015, and also that he did beat Massa very convincingly in quali. Sure, he’s experienced and tried & tested.. so that fits perfectly with what Mercedes is looking for. As Keith mentioned, ‘realistically’ he was probably the best option.

    But will he take a title fight down to the wire with Lewis? Hell NO. And that’s what’s disappointing all the viewers. The fact that Fernando, Seb, Max and Dan won’t be partnering Lewis is not unexpected, but at least it gave us some hope for a good championship fight. Now my only hope is that Red Bull have the fastest car in the field, so I can sit back and see an epic season of Dan vs Max

    1. Yeah Dan v Max would be great but I also hope it is amongst more than just 2 drivers in dominant cars. And we just don’t know right now. This is so exciting and I’m sure we all just can’t wait to see where the cars sit amongst each other but also how the cars race amongst each other with the huge regs changes.

      Regarding VB specifically I think in a way all bets are off because he is about to be in the best car by far he will have had in his career, even if Merc isn’t dominant, so he must be ultra stoked, pumped, excited, thrilled etc etc. Let’s reserve judgement on VB once he’s had some races to acclimatize to the team and they to him, all the while watching all the drivers adapt to these new cars. As someone said the other day this is a perfect time for slightly unproven VB to be joining LH at Merc…when they will all be adapting to totally different cars and tires.

      1. Spot on comment Robbie.

        I just hope audiences will give him a chance to bed in before jumping all over him.

        I imagine he will be hard at work on the simulator and trying to get used to the differences.

        Even the dash set up was hugely different on the Williams and it’s the small details that effect.

    2. I do not expect him to take the title to the wire against Hamilton either @todfod. But did you expect Rosberg to do that against Hamilton in 2014? I certainly wouldn’t have expected that one myself.

      Let’s not write his will to win off because he did the job at Williams by having solid finishes. Also remember that tech issues and bad strategy (as well as the car not being great in the wet and often being harsh on its tyres in recent years) have cost him several very good spots too.

      1. @bascb
        I expected Rosberg to put up a good fight to Hamilton, but never expected him to realistically beat him to the WDC in any season. It was only after Hamilton’s engine failure in Malaysia 2016 that I actually thought Rosberg had a chance of taking the WDC that year.

        I rate Bottas slightly lower than Rosberg, so I expect him to put up a similar fight, but don’t see him taking the WDC fight to the last race unless Hamilton has some catastrophic luck for a 2nd year in a row. The problem I have, is that Bottas really hasn’t impressed much over the past 2 seasons. He was marginally better than a washed up Felipe in 2014 & 2015 and was significantly better than Felipe in 2016, when it already seemed like Felipe had thrown in the towel and was up for retirement.

        I’m sure I could be proved wrong if Bottas really steps up his game and manages to get under Lewis’ skin… but it seems unlikely considering Hamilton will be back in full force to get his WDC title back next season.

        Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

        1. I guess we will @todfod!
          I think that maybe Bottas was held back (as in mentally) by the limits of the car and the team in the last 2 years a bit. In 2014 it looked like Williams had a chance to be in there and he stepped up to it. But then in 2015 the whole team seemed to be somewhat less motivated, the car was less competative where it had been great before and it still suffered from the same issues (2016 was a bit of the same), so it might have influenced his driving too. Or at least I hope it has.

  9. I’ve come to consider Bottas as just about level with Rosberg, so I’ll be interesting to see how close I am to being right.

    1. I hope that you are right because if Bottas is equal to Rosberg, then we don’t have to worry about 2017 being boring.

  10. Excellent piece, @keithcollantine. I totally agree!

  11. Yes, I agree with the article ( very well written as usual), and for me Bottas is at least on the same level as Nico. Massa already said that Bottas is very very good, and this coming from a driver that already paired with some of the greats like Schumacher and Alonso, and some respectable drivers like Raikonnen too. I think he is mature enough for dealing with the pressures of a big team ( much better prepared than kovalainen or Perez were when they had their chances), also, the pressure will be on Hamilton to beat him, not the opposite. Everything is aligned for him to have a great season! Ps: just forgot to mention that Hakkinen also consider Bottas the most talented Finnish driver of his generation as well.

    1. Nice article. Good points.

  12. I don’t like to read an headline starting by “why”. It’s when journalism starts to cross into romance novels. It’s subjective writing, that said I do think Mercedes took their decision for the reasons stated above, anyhow, call this an opinion article or whatever. In these day and age I see “why” I think click-bait.

    1. Of course this is a blog though, right? This whole site is designed to inform but also to invite discussion and debate, no? If you must call it anything beyond an excellent F1 blog for F1Fanatics, how about ‘click-debate’?

    2. There are quite a view different types of journalistic articles in the genre, some of which may very well start with ‘Why’. This is one of them.

    3. Clickbait? Oh yes, God forbid Keith wanting to increase his reader base. If you’re not interested in his opinion you could just, y’know, ignore the articles starting with “why”.

  13. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    16th January 2017, 19:25

    My prediction is he will be a solid, drama free number 2. I can completely understand their decision. I think the dynamic at Mercedes will work perfectly.

    1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      16th January 2017, 19:30

      Very telling they’ve only got him on a 1 year deal. 2018 driver market is going to be fascinating.

      1. That was my thought. Alonso or Vettel could easily jump ship in 2018 and AML would be crazy not to try and get them. FA particularly would send the media into a frenzy that would easily be worth the hassle it may cause.

  14. Williams car is not reliable if put in a good driver like Seb, Lewis or Fernando you will the the same results. If you put any driver in a Mercedes car, the drivers will be much better. It is all about car reliability and good hard teamwork.
    Pascal whelein would been a good choice for the second seat.

    1. Correction: Pascal Wherlein.
      Give Valteri a chance the season hasn’t started yet.
      We’ll find how good he is on the grid.

      1. Correction: Valtteri

      2. Correction: Pascal Wehrlein

        1. Absoloute not lol, Hamilton or Alonso would have actually won a race on the mercs off day. It was a joke Massa or Bottas did not win a race.

  15. You heard it here first: VB is bound to dominate in Merc. Both qualis and races. And points of course.

  16. You wonder why teams bother issuing press releases these days, or lining up pr.

    “Autosport article of 2 months ago verified” is all that’s realistically happening now. Short of print journalists, and the chance of getting on TV for a slow news day, there’s nothing to announce anymore, everyone already knows!

    1. Red Bull seem to be very good at not letting their driver moves leak. Things like the Verstappen-Kvyat swap, Verstappen getting a Toro Rosso seat, Kvyat replacing Vettel, none of these were widely reported before they happened. I seem to remember Buemi and Alguersuari losing their seats to Ricciardo and Vergne caught a lot of people by surprise too.

      1. Depends where you look. Verstappen getting an STR seat was reported weeks before. Same for Kvyat swap on Dutch messageboards.

        1. @hahostolze Depends whether we’re talking about serious reportage or idle speculation! There’s never a shortage of the latter.

  17. The lukewarm response reminds me somewhat of Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull. The dominant team of the era replaces it’s retiring driver with what was widely perceived to be a safe bet who wouldn’t rock the boat. Someone who would fall into a submissive role against the star driver. Then he goes on to make that star driver look pretty average, and is now widely regarded as one of F1’s biggest talents.

    Like back then, we are entering a period of significant rule changes. The slate is wiped clean. I’m not saying that Bottas can do what Ricciardo did, but I certainly don’t think he will fall into a No. 2 role. Either way, it’s far, far too soon to judge, and I can’t wait to see how he does.

  18. I mean the move makes sense but Maldonado would have been a pretty funny choice

  19. I agree that Bottas isn’t a bad choice, but even F1Fanatic ranked nine drivers higher than Bottas last season. Granted, two of them were Mercedes drivers and three were never a realistic option (Ricciardo, Alonso and Vettel). But that still leaves us with Verstappen, Sainz, Perez and Hulkenberg ranked higher than Valtteri. The article doesn’t really explain why he is a better option for Mercedes than any of them.

  20. Whilst he was most certainly the best candidate available, it would be interesting canvas people’s views on whether Sainz would have been more competitive had he been released to partner Lewis. I happen to think that the tenacious, mature and uber-quick driver we saw in Sainz last year would have fared handsomely against Hamilton, and there is no doubt in my mind that he would have brought a higher watermark of pure performance to the table than Bottas.

    It’s a relevant question because Carlos is ripe fruit for the 2018 driver market, so if Bottas’ shortcomings versus Hamilton allow Red Bull to get into the mix for the constructor’s title, it might two new teammates in two years for Hamilton. Similarly, it is highly likely that as part of the negotiations with Williams, Bottas has been required to sign a pre-contract for 2018, so his Mercedes deal might in actual fact be a loan in return for an engine rebate. So whether it be needing a quicker driver of the mouthwatering selection available for 2018, or in keeping with a one year loan deal with Williams, we could be replaying this entire saga again during “silly season”.

    However there is also sound logic to suggest a longer Mercedes tenure for Bottas. First of all, he could very well do an excellent job, and I think he will at least carry over Rosberg’s habit of keeping Hamilton honest in qualifying. Secondly, Valtteri is a congenial character, and Mercedes might quite enjoy a more relaxed internal atmosphere. Lastly, why would Williams do their protege the disservice of recalling him from a likely winning car, when they could make a play for the services of Sainz, or Grosjean, or Perez? They could even take a look at the kind of driver Kvyat could be without Helmut Marko glaring in the background.

  21. I think we’re all being remarkably revisionist when suddenly Bottas isn’t as exciting a signing as Sainz Jr. The latter hasn’t proven a tenth of what Bottas has.

    1. @hahostolze But Bottas has had infinitely greater opportunities to prove himself. He spent a 2014 enjoying the second fastest car on the track much of the time, and a 2015 season with the third fastest car on the track. Meanwhile, Sainz spent a 2015 season comparing admirably against the new wunderkind, despite being hamstrung by incessant unreliability, and has had a phenomenal 2016 season despite watching the powerunit advantage of his immediate competitors increase race-by-race.

      1. @william-briety Oh stop Sainz goes backwards, how can you rate the the guy who was getting beat by the corpse of Kvyat at the end?. I rate him but to say he is better than Bottas is ludicrous

  22. First of all, congratulations to Valtteri Bottas for winning the most wanted seat in F1! But where there are winners there are also losers. For me personally, Pascal Wherlein would be the right choice. Not only because he was free from contracts, bus also because he’s is a member of their own Mercedes-junior program. Wherlein must be disappointed that Mercedes does not thrust their own junior-program and this will mean a set-back in his career. By chosing for Bottas they put the Williams-team in big trouble in a time of big changes in F1. The return of Felipe Massa will not set that straight. Williams will feel the effect of the young and the old, because Massa is no saviour and Lance Stroll is by far no Max Verstappen! Bottas will probably have a contract for just one year, with an option of more years if he delivers. Not an easy task for Bottas. I’m afraid he will be no match for three-times worldchampion Lewis Hamilton, who will be delighted with the choice of his team!

  23. Let’s not overestimate Massa in the ‘Bottas beat his team mate’ argument. Massa being very mediocre doesn’t really give us a view on Bottas’ performance

  24. Hope you’re right, it doesn’t feel exciting or that he is going to be able to go toe to toe with LH but I thought that about JB. MY view is if the cars are monsters to drive VB wont get near him but if they are the pussycats they have been he will be might close and will probably rattle LH

  25. a quiet Finn in a silver car with a 3 pointed star on the nose…he could be the new Hakkinen

  26. If he was such a catch, Mercedes would have signed him for a longer than 1 year. IMO, he’s a stop gap before Vettel/Richardo/Alonso are free in 2018.

  27. I think that a lot of the criticism of this move is down to people wanting to see the best drivers in the same team, so they wanted Mercedes to sign Alonso or Vettel, no matter how unlikely that was, anything less meant some fans would be disappointed.

    This also shows how much difference a driver’s reputation and ranking among fans can make and also how that reputation can change.

    Someone that springs to mind would be Ricciardo, when Webber retired and it was a choice between the two Toro Rosso drivers, Ricciardo and Vergne, as to who would move up to replace Webber at Red Bull, it wasn’t a straight forward decision, they seemed to be rated about the same and neither would have been backed to go on and be ranked in the top tier of F1 drivers as Ricciardo now appears to be.

    A lot of drivers burst on to the scene in F1 and are rated as the next big thing, most don’t live up to the hype for various reasons such as the because the hype was not justified in the first place and they were never that good, they made bad career choices or they never got the right opportunities to prove themselves.

    A good recent example of how a driver’s reputation can change through their career would be Jenson Button, when he started with Williams in 2000 he was another driver hailed as the next big thing, with his move Benetton his rating went down and he was outperformed by Fisichella, during this period he also gained a bit of a reputation as a playboy . Button’s move to BAR saw him start to rebuild his career and he finally got his maiden victory in 2006 but with the uncompetitive Earth Dream Honda era it seemed to be that he would be consigned to being just a Grand Prix winner who didn’t achieve anything more.

    The Brawn takeover rescued his career and brought him his title, but some dismissed it as only being due to the car, his decision to join McLaren and go up against Hamilton was widely questioned but it meant he proved himself and his performances against Hamilton probably mean he is rated higher than he would have been if he had taken the easy route after his championship victory.

    Because of the nature of the sport and how important the car is in performance, a driver’s reputation can make or break on their career choices, making the right move at the right time, as predicting which team can provide the best chance of success is not always straight forward.

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