Is Hamilton’s praise for Bottas’s performance backed up by the data?

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton may have put a lock on the world championship with three races to spare, but yesterday he was at pains to praise how well his team mate had done to keep the championship fight alive.

In Hamilton’s view, Valtteri Bottas has edged closer to him in pure performance this year. Unreliability and the quirks of the points system have exaggerated the difference between them in the championship standings, says Hamilton.

Is he right? Let’s take a look at the data:

How Hamilton and Bottas compare

2020 (first 14 races)


“Naturally, Valtteri is just getting stronger and stronger each year,” said Hamilton yesterday. Referring to the short-lived social media craze for ‘Bottas 2.0’ which followed his team mate’s victory in last year’s season-opener, he added: “The media have commented on the ‘2.0’, et cetera.

“Every year you can see him just grafting away, chipping away, trying to raise the bar in so many different areas,” Hamilton continued. “In race trim you can see the consistency that I’ve had this year is really what’s made the difference. But if you look on the race weekends, it was so close.”

Hamilton is, of course, far better placed to comment on Bottas’s work behind the scenes than we are. But looking at the raw results from this year so far compared to last year, it’s hard to discern an improvement. If anything, Bottas may have slipped back slightly.

We are comparing an abridged and incomplete season of 14 races against last year’s full season which, with 21 rounds, is 50% longer. Nonetheless it’s clear that in proportional terms Bottas hasn’t qualified, lapped or finished ahead of Hamilton as often as he did last year.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Silverstone punctures cost Bottas more than Hamilton
Hamilton believes the points gap between the pair is exaggerated partly by the “gap of seven points” between first and second place. “Valtteri was also unfortunate this year with a reliability issue,” Hamilton added, “so it makes that gap even bigger than it [really] is.”

There’s two sides to this. Yes, the difference between first and second is more than twice the three-point gap between second and third. But this was also the case last year, so that doesn’t tell us so much about how well the points difference illustrates their relative performance.

Hamilton has a point about Bottas’s unreliability, however. Not only did he have a power unit problem at the Nurburgring, but at Silverstone both drivers suffered late punctures, and while Hamilton was still able to win, Bottas dropped out of the points. Even if we ungenerously assume these setbacks cost him third and second place finishes respectively, Bottas would be 33 points better off, and still mathematically in championship contention.

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Hamilton vs Bottas qualifying gap: 2020 (first 14 races)

One other crucial respect in which Hamilton believes Bottas is performing better is qualifying. Here, too, he may be being a little generous.

“If you look at a lot of the qualifying [sessions], it was the smallest of margins,” said Hamilton. “So closing the gap in qualifying he has done already, which has made it quite challenging. It already did last year but I would say even more so this year.”

Looking at the qualifying gap between them over the course of this year (above), it’s clearly been close. Bottas missed out on beating Hamilton to pole position by less than a tenth of a second three times, and by a tenth twice more.

It cuts both ways, however; Bottas beat Hamilton by less than a tenth on three occasions (Hamilton lost pole position the first time that happened due to a penalty).

On average, it’s hard to see the improvement Hamilton discerns here. Bottas was 0.122s slower than him on average last year. This year, even if we factor out the ‘outlier’ of Styria, the gap is 0.165s.

Hamilton vs Bottas qualifying gap: 2019 (first 14 races)

These are small gaps. But again it looks like Hamilton is giving Bottas a bit too much credit. In terms of performance if the pendulum has swung either way, it’s not by much, and it’s in Hamilton’s favour.

With better luck, Bottas would still be in the title fight
Hamilton is right – and very fair – to draw attention to Bottas’s improved scoring rate this year and the fact he has lost more due to bad luck with his machinery. That said, there is another significant factor here which hasn’t been discussed: Mercedes’ rivals are weaker this year, and less able to take points away from them.

Nonetheless, it is clear Hamilton has nothing but respect for his team mate’s mental stamina and work ethic.

“People need to give Valtteri his due respect,” he said. “You’ve got to remember who he’s driving up against. It’s not easy being my team mate but he comes in weekend in, weekend out with the same mentality, he’s never moaning, complaining that something’s wrong with the car, it’s always just ‘I’ve got to do a better job.’

“I don’t know any other driver that does that here and I think that’s something we share in common. I’d like to think we come into these weekends with a fresh head and I think mentally he’s one of the strongest drivers here.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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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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34 comments on “Is Hamilton’s praise for Bottas’s performance backed up by the data?”

  1. I think what people sometimes forget is also that F1 is as much a mental game as it is a physical sport. The psychological pressure for drivers to do well technically, be better than their team mate, ensure they have a seat somewhere for the next year, all while trying not to spin off the track is immense, and as the team mate of a 6-time (then) World Champion, I reckon it’s even more so for Bottas.

    I feel like Hamilton knows that a lot of people have fun jeering and griping about his supposed “whining”, and as someone who knows how much one’s own emotional dynamics could affect them, the effusive praise he gave Bottas might be strongly based on him knowing how much pressure Bottas is under and how the other man still tries as best as he could considering the circumstances. Nothing but love and respect for these two gentlemen!

  2. Good analysis. I think the problem is that while Bottas has some good days, these happen too rarely, and even some of those Hamilton is able to turn into his favour: if Bottas is faster in qualifying, Hamilton has faster race pace, is able to overtake him with a better strategy, or has more “luck” like in the restarts in Mugello. If Bottas wants to challenge properly for the championship, he needs to be able to be right at the top all the time and take advantage of any misfortune for Hamilton (like Monza this year), and most importantly, turn the bad races into good ones.

    1. Exactly he needs to win 7 races in a row, then he might be in window to get lucky.

    2. quite true.

  3. Hehe, Lewis is like Wolff, exagerating competitivness of Ferrari, and this year Red Bull.

    While clearly great teams, and Valteri a great driver, over a season the cold hard truth is… Not even close.

    So what is Lewis to say? How Bottas is a chump, that he got records to easy?

    Loose – loose. Some people should stick to talking on the track, he is quite great at that.

    Manipulating stats to make teamate look closer tham he is? Decent attempt, but does not pass the eyeball test.

    1. This. Lewis is great on track, but off track he is so full of

  4. Only reason Bottas is closer is Ferrari are not finishing between them. One of the worse #2 drivers out there. Russel, Hulk, Checo, Ric, Alo were all options for Merc. They would all have pushed way more. Bottas has all but thrown the towel in. Time to go Valterri.

    1. Why go. This is exactly what Mercedes wants. Good enough to secure the WCC and not even close to becoming annoying to our star driver. The perfect match. Massa was similar for Ferrari

    2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      27th November 2020, 13:19

      “they all would have pushed way more”

      What evidence do you have? Up until the mid season point, Stroll had arguably looked slightly better than Perez in fact. Ricciardo looked pretty poor last year if I’m honest with a terrible weekend in both France and Baku. Even so, I think Ricciardo still will probably be better than Bottas, but I doubt Perez, Hulkenberg would and we just don’t know enough about Russell to confirm anything yet.

      Bottas easily looked better than Hulkenberg in 2014 – 2016 when he was at williams despite Force india being the better car near the end of 2016. Perez managed to beat Bottas, but Bottas did have some bad luck near the end of that year. There hasn’t really been anything to suggest Hulkenberg would be more solid than Bottas. Bottas got at least 3 podiums over 2 seasons in a midfield car (2015 – 2016). Hulkenberg had a lot more time in midfield cars that still were capable of them at times, but never got a single one.

      Perez is better at tyre management and slightly better race pace than Bottas but is much more error prone (2018 with Ocon as an example) and just doesn’t have the one lap pace that Bottas does. That is pretty important given how hard it is to overtake. I reckon Perez would have found himself outside the front row in qualifying this year pretty often had he taken Bottas’s place.

      In terms of being a number two driver, I would argue that he is one of the best. They are not many other drivers that would be as well suited to his role with mercedes as he is at the moment.

  5. I think the best available comparison is to look at the other drivers considered among the best on the grid, and see how they’re doing vs their team-mates. Verstappen is making Albon look silly, Leclerc is bashing a four-time world champion out of the park… go down out of the (well, my) top three and Ricciardo has more than double Ocon’s points.

    Hamilton has more competition than his ‘peers’, yet it’s his team-mate who constantly gets it in the neck…

    1. If Ricciardo had won the past four championships on the trot in a dominant car and Ocon was sitting beside him for each of those years getting the drubbing he has been handed this year, then absolutely people would be coming down on Ocon harshly, to say the least.

      Bottas cops it more than other drivers because for the past four years he has been in the priveliged position of being one of maybe three drivers able to fight for the title (the other two being Vettel in 17 & 18 and of course, Lewis).

  6. However the crucial difference to last year is their share of points. By this decisive metric Bottas is doing slightly better.

    Umm… am I missing something? Using the numbers in the article last year he scored 44.1% of the teams points while this year he’s at 39.1%. So like all other metrics mentioned he’s doing slightly worse than last year.

    Also aside from the stats, 2 races have stuck out this year that make me disagree. The first Monza, where Bottas put in what has to be one of the worse performances of any driver all year. The second the Spanish grand prix, where following what would normally be the final pit stop he came out in 3rd and set about maintaining a gap to Verstappen before suddenly finding 2 seconds a lap before pitting for new tyres to “confirm” fastest lap. This is a driver supposedly in the “championship fight” settling for 3rd despite having a quicker car than the person ahead and zero risk from behind if he burned out his tyres as everyone else was lapped.

    1. in proportional terms Bottas hasn’t qualified, lapped or finished ahead of Hamilton as often as he did last year

      @yossarian This statement is also incorrect as the figures show that Bottas has lapped ahead of Hamilton more often this year than last (30% v 26%) so I suspect Keith has mixed up the bottom two bar charts in his analysis.

  7. F1oSaurus (@)
    27th November 2020, 9:37

    The forest missed for the tree here is that Bottas is often actually close to Hamilton. Especially on quali performance (barring wet tracks). That’s what Hamilton has to deal with. So he feels that pressure.

    As statistics go, you look at medians and not averages. The median quali gap is less than a tenth between them. There are about 8 of the races where it’s within that. That’s incredibly close and more consistently close than 2019 too.

    So you can look at the scoreboard, but as explained that’s highly skewed. 14 times 7 is already 98 points. So just that would explain the gap. Then add scoring no points in Silverstone, Monza, Eifel and Turkey mostly due to technical issues.

    Besides in 2019 Bottas had Ferrari to contend with and the were so incredibly poor on strategy and driver management. They would take out themselves during almost every race where they were in contention. Red Bull goes all in on Verstappen. So again, on paper he might have less competition now, effectively, if he has a start off the racing line he finishes in P3 instead of P2.

    While Albon and Vettel really sunk through the ice with cars that just don’t suit their driving styles at all and their teams unwilling to do anything to help fix the problem for their #2 drivers. They are both just nowhere on Sundays. Especially Verstappen has barely any pressure since there is a big gap in performance to the next team.

    1. Good points @f1osaurus, esp. about the median, which to me usually is a lot better way to compare results like this.

      I also recall that Bottas had a few bad starts that really lost him a lot of points, but might also not factor into negatives for Hamilton, because he knows how hard it is to get them right, and they are at least partly about circumstance.

      1. @f1osaurus Pretty sure we can all see the forest for the trees when it comes to LH vs VB. You can play with the quali stats using wording all you want, but surely there cannot be many people on the planet that truly have felt like he is any competition for LH whatsoever from what we have all visually seen. It’s the Sunday stats that count, and no matter how you want to manipulate it, or make it about Ferrari or RBR, VB is simply no challenger for LH come race day.

        But hey of course I understand LH trying to make it sound like his job has been harder than it has been, and of course with VB sitting right beside him he’s going to be especially diplomatic, and of course LH loves that VB is no Nico. VB winning seven in a row vs LH has never even entered anybody’s mind as even a remote possibility.

        Bottom line…VB continues to squander that glorious WCC car.

      2. @bosyber Those bad starts are also related to him starting from P2. We saw Verstappen have bad starts from P2 as well.

        It’s often the line off the racing line and there is less grip there.

  8. Diplomatically, it’s the smart thing to say, even if it isn’t quite true. If the picture at the top is where he said it, then he’s sitting next to Bottas. He can hardly say, “Yeah, Valtteri was a bit worse than last year and that’s why I beat him again.” Of course, some people are going to accuse him of ‘bigging himself up’ and tell him to do his talking on the track, but he can’t do that when he’s literally at a press conference. Best just to offer a few vague pronouncements about how he has improved and then just beat him again in the next race.

    1. Finally, someone who gets it.

      Paying respect. He probably knows it’s not quite true, just says the right thing when asked.

  9. Bottas has done well to stay focussed, such is the onslaught of Lewis’ consistency, natural talent and drive for perfectionism. It would destroy most drivers and all this talk of Russell, Ceco, bla blah blah doing better can easily be said, but its just conjecture with zero evidence. Why would Wolf change a perfect dynamic. Bottas is not high maintenance, he has comfortably beaten his previous team mates, there is no doubting his pace, he is just up against a worldy. Shrug your shoulders and enjoy it or do a Danny Ric and almost certainly be fighting for 5th. Bottas is too wise for that and of course Lewis wont be there forever. He may still get his chance.

  10. Bottas = Barrichello. 100%.

  11. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    27th November 2020, 10:48

    Not sure how Hamilton lost pole position in Austria “due to his penalty” He was 2nd until he got his penalty and he got the penalty for not slowing down. He lost 2nd and got a 3 place grid penalty and started 5th. Had he lost pole, he would have started 4th.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      27th November 2020, 11:03

      Yes Bottas did make his mistake and trimmed the grass, but he basically ruined his own run and Hamilton didn’t improve anyway, so he’s basically earned his pole position by the fine margins earlier on. At no point had hamilton lost his pole.

  12. While people are right to get a bit miffed when people try to play down Hamilton’s outstanding performance by mentioning the obvious Merc dominance. Bottas doesn’t get that benefit. The only reason he’s not 5th in the WDC is because he’s in the Merc as it is.

    On days where everything falls his way, he can win a race. But those days are rare. If Red Bull had build a better car this year, and Max had not had as many retirements in Italy, I doubt he’d be comfortable at 2nd even in this season. For me, this tells the whole story.

    At this point, he should have stats similar to Nico Rosberg, who won way more races opposite Lewis than Bottas has ever done in any season. And if you’re not on the level Nico Rosberg was at, you’re certainly not anywhere close to the level Hamilton is at.

    1. @aiii I find it more difficult to compare Rosberg and Bottas. Definitely, Rosberg was more aggressive, more dynamic (taking more risks) during races, and knew he had to make Hamilton uncomfortable to win. The issue, though, is that Hamilton definitely has improved since as a racer in numerous areas, and yet Bottas is still relatively close in terms of pace (closer than Rosberg was on average maybe?) So that suggests Bottas is no slouch. Even so, I’m certain Hamilton sees him as zero threat, while the rivalry with Rosberg was part of Hamilton’s DNA as a racer from an early age. I think you’d now need Verstappen, Leclerc or Ricciardo in the other Mercedes to ruffle Hamilton even slightly.

    2. @aiii Hamilton had lost of issues with the car when he was driving against Rosberg.

      If you take out those races where either of the driver had issues, Hamilton beat both Rosberg and Bottas 3 out of four races.

      If Hamilton would still be starting races from P22 or from the pitlane or even from P10 then you’d see Bottas winning those races too.

      Thing is, it’s actually Bottas who tends to have the issues nowadays. 4 races this season alone where he scored no points and he suffered an issue with the car.

  13. Bottas was never much quicker than Massa who was about 7-8 years past his peak (never the same after that 2009 accident).

    Beat Massa is qualifying, but surprisingly close in races.

    Mercedes got Bottas for one reason despite many drivers like Alonso putting up their hand for the seat and that’s because he’d never challenge Hamilton.

    It’s emMercedes only winning 2 of the first 7 races.

    Mercedes quickest in Australia with Vettel jumping into the lead with a fortunate VSC allowing him to pit, Bahrain had

    Bottas all over the back of Vettel at the end with Vettel doing well to hold him off despite being much slower, China

    Hamilton got outqualified by Bottas with Bottas leading the race when safety car came out Mercedes didn’t pit the RBRs did

    1. Bottas destroyed Massa. Even though Smedley was always giving the better strategy to Massa.

  14. This article is an example of how poor it is to make decisions based on the final numbers.

    Bottas and Lewis go into a quali, you can’t be sure who will Come out on top.

    Max and Albon, or leclerc and Vettel, you don’t need much to know who will Be ahead.

    There you have it. Bottas is good. But Lewis is better.

    1. Bottas being Hamilton’s teammate reminds me of Barrichello being Schumacher’s teammate. He’s no Rosberg or Prost.
      enemy warning

  15. The one-lap time difference between them is probably never going to vary much, Hamilton quicker by one and a half or two tenths (two because I think Bottas sets up more for one lap qualifying pace). So the big question is race performance. And there Hamilton is way ahead. Considerably quicker usually, he also has two further pluses: much better tyre management, and better racing skills, both avoiding trouble and chasing down and overtaking. Bottas’s lack of aggression means I can’t ever see him winning a championship against Hamilton, and he probably has just one more season running against him anyhow. And to be honest, that’s a perfect scenario for Lewis (and Mercedes). Bottas is fast enough to assist but no real threat over a season.

  16. Of course LH will lavish praise on his wingman, as Robottas is the perfect teammate for Merc. Fast enough to lock up the constructors while not nearly good enough to pose a threat to their star. Sure he has his moments, but little racecraft and no consistency.

    Racefans have been suffering for 4yrs now, with a 5th on its way. :(

  17. One thing I can respect it’s that Bottas having spent all his life probably believing he has what it takes to be the best in the world, lands the best seat in the game. But then week after week finds he at best occasionally can have the edge, and usually it’s Hamilton actually being off form rather than Bottas being untouchable

    But he never plays dirty, on track is the only place he fights the battle. Who knows, maybe with some of the tactics Rosberg used Bottas would get more under Hamilton’s skin and he might not have quite the edge

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