Bottas concludes his Mercedes chapter in Hamilton’s shadow

2021 team mate battles: Hamilton vs Bottas

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Valtteri Bottas came into the 2021 season with rumours already swirling that this could be his last year in a Mercedes.

After George Russell impressed so much in his one-off appearance at the Sakhir Grand Prix at the end of 2020, the pressure was on Bottas to produce his best Mercedes season so far in 2021 – yet it ultimately proved his worst.

But over the year Lewis Hamilton handed Bottas arguably his heaviest beating in 2021 out of the five seasons the pair spent as Mercedes team mates together. So it was little surprise that long before the end it was announced that Russell would be promoted from Williams to join Hamilton for 2022.

Whether it was in qualifying ahead of Hamilton (22.73%), classified finishes ahead (17.65%), points share (35.82%) or racing laps spent ahead (15.64%), this season was Bottas’ least successful compared against his team mate by every metric. It would also be the only season in which the pair failed to record a single one-two finish together.

While Hamilton opened the season with back-to-back duels with Max Verstappen at the front of the field, Bottas’ heavy crash with Russell at the second race of the year in Imola left many to question why the Mercedes had been racing against a Williams – a car it should have been comfortably ahead of.

Bottas recovered to take pole in Portugal before finishing third in the race. He then suffered cruel luck in Monaco. On a weekend where he comfortably out-qualified his team mate and was running four places ahead of him, second to Verstappen, an excruciating wheel nut failure in the pits ended his best race of the year too soon.

After pole in Mexico, Bottas was spun out on lap one
Aside from Hamilton’s ‘brake magic’ error at the restart in Azerbaijan, he finished ahead of Bottas in every remaining race with two exceptions. These were the Austrian Grand Prix – where damage from the kerbs caused him to fade – and the Turkish Grand Prix, where Bottas took his sole victory of the season after Hamilton was hit with a ten place power unit component grid penalty.

There were times when Bottas played a useful role for Hamilton in his fight with Verstappen, and at times that may have inhibited his points-scoring. It also bears pointing out he ended the year much closer to his team mate in the points than Sergio Perez did.

But likely the most disappointing result for Bottas was at the final round in Abu Dhabi, where he proved a complete non-factor in the title decider. While Perez played a vital role by obstructing Hamilton in Verstappen’s favour, Bottas fell back at the start with an under-powered engine and struggled to make progress in the race – eventually crossing the line sixth after losing two places during the controversial final lap restart.

Bottas’s efforts still secured a fifth constructors’ championship for Mercedes in his fifth and final year with the team. After losing the world championship to Verstappen this season, Mercedes will be hoping that Russell can take the fight to Red Bull in 2022 more often than Bottas managed to this season.

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Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas: Key stats

Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas: Who finished ahead at each round

Hamilton Q
Bottas Q

Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas: Qualifying gap

Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time. Negative indicates Lewis Hamilton was faster, positive means Valtteri Bottas was faster

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
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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37 comments on “Bottas concludes his Mercedes chapter in Hamilton’s shadow”

  1. Valtteri is a good Qualflier that is clear in all those years but it’s his racecraft which is lacking otherwise he could made Lewis life much worse during this periode. When he is between other cars he seems to struggle and putting up a defense like Perez Max also overtook him within 1 round.

    1. That’s why I think he’ll struggle further down the field with Alfa Romeo. Maybe the cars will help him a bit, but he’s in for a tough couple of seasons.

    2. I’ve always said the same – on Saturday he is very impressive, he pushes his team mate. But if he’s behind another car on Sunday, whereas the likes of HAM or VER would be past them in a few corners – Bottas will be there was a dozen laps

      1. If he can’t get past other cars in a Mercedes he’s going to have a tough few years at Alfa Romeo.

    3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      21st December 2021, 12:16

      @macleod but that’s an issue with anyone who races against Lewis except Fernando.

      Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel, and Verstappen all appeared to lack race craft when competing against Lewis and it became progressively worse for all of them including Max who looked like a wrecking ball as opposed to a Formula 1 driver.

      The only response you’d get is “what is wrong with them? Can’t they drive?”

      I’ve never seen this before in my life in any sport.

      1. Rosberg, bottas and vettel ok, verstappen is at least hamilton’s equal in racecraft however and the only reason he’s struggled in the last few races is cause hamilton had a rocket.

  2. This didn’t even remotely qualify for the term “battle.” Like anything involving Toto’s lovely seatwarmer.

  3. There’s a rumor that Bottas took a lot of power unit penalties in the latter half of the season because that helped the team to develop a more powerful engine for Hamilton. So that was perhaps Bottas’s contribution to the WDC title fight in Abu Dhabi – thanks to all those power unit penalties, Hamilton’s Mercedes was a faster car than Verstappen’s Red Bull.

    The power unit penalties took points away from Bottas in several races, where overtaking was more difficult than Mercedes had predicted. In Abu Dhabi, Bottas had to revert to an old power unit, which cost him in qualifying and made overtaking more difficult.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      21st December 2021, 10:48

      To be pedantic MB couldn’t develop a more powerful engine but could find out how it was wearing if run at higher output ala party mode for a race.

    2. Bottas was indeed the sacrificial lamb to keep Lewis in the game.

      1. Perez was a kebab to keep Max in the game. Max should still be thanking him…even now.

        1. Should clarify that Sergio is my second fave driver, and I trust him to roar back next year.

        2. Yes, he was. For 2 laps he kept Saint Lewis (who was on much fresher tyres) at bay, a feat Lewis himself was unable to replicate on the last lap.

          Let’s not forget that when we ever feel the need to commiserate poor Lewis for the the unjustice that was put upon him.

          1. I swear commenters on this website lose all sense and reason when trying to disparage Lewis’ ability. He is Sir Lewis Hamilton, not Saint Lewis.

          2. His comment makes sense though, I completely glassed over the saint lewis and focused on what he said.

      2. Valtteri should be thankful. He won 10 races at Mercedes, which is more than some more talented drivers never achieved.

        1. never = ever

  4. Bottas is nice guy, but in F1 I don’t want to see nice guys. This is sport for the likes of Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, now Max.

    Hamilton and Vettel play nice guys outside of the cars, but when they see prey on the track, they do not hesitate.

    Bottas gave us some of the most boring races ever and I am glad to see him go. It is like 3 years too late actually. If Mercedes are again 1 second ahead of the field under the new regulations, I hope Russel lives to the hype and deliver fight to Lewis.

    After such close season I can’t imagine going back to the cruising at the front, although usually this is the case under new regulations. So Checo and Russel really need to deliver in 22.

  5. Bottas’ main contributions to his team-mate were Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix when he brought out the red flag (along with George) and converted a likely DNF for Lewis into a second place finish.

    And then the oft-mentioned “bowling” at Hungary when he took out Verstappen (and others)!

    In all seriousness though – it’s clear Bottas was sacrificed a bit this season, but only because he was so far behind his team mate that Mercedes had to focus on Hamilton. Same with Verstappen and Perez at Red Bull.

    Bottas and Perez are certainly not bad drivers (I’ve always enjoyed watching Perez), but their team mates are in the God-tier of F1 drivers. It’s amazing that given how dominant Red Bull and Mercedes were this season that neither scored a 1-2 finish, HAM and VER were almost in a formula of their own.

    1. Bottas’ main contributions to his team-mate were Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix when he brought out the red flag (along with George) and converted a likely DNF for Lewis into a second place finish

      And the time he was a bowling ball in Hungary, where he managed to hit both the Red Bull pins in one corner. I would actually say the only race the was a legitimate help to his teammate was in Turkey. Where he finally kept Max behind him for a race win.

    2. Bottas’ main contributions to his team-mate were Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix when he brought out the red flag (along with George) and converted a likely DNF for Lewis into a second place finish.

      Bottas didn’t “bring out the red flag” in Emilia-Romagna. Russell lost the control of his car and hit Bottas after that. Some people may remember the incident wrong, because Russell was initially furious and even slapped Bottas’ helmet. But it was clear from the replays that Bottas was blameless.

      1. Some people may remember the incident wrong,

        Well that is new..
        Never seen that before on this forum.

      2. @hotbottoms – I agree with you. Not Bottas’ fault, I was just being light-hearted about his involvement in the incident!

      3. @hotbottoms

        One possible interpretation of the accident was that Russell gave Bottas more room than he would have given another driver, which put him on the grass, which caused him to crash into Bottas.

      4. Racing Incident
        22nd December 2021, 18:03

        Also: Imola is still a clear racing incident to this day. I still know what both said on the radio. And it’s still a racing incident by 200%.

  6. I think this could mean 2 things.
    1. Lewis really upped his game this year after a few easy years in a dominant car (I don’t think this is a fair point, because you’d expect him to be always on his usual best and also the car has not always been dominant)
    2. The tougher and closer the competition, the more cars there are between a ‘excellent’ driver (Hamilton) and a ‘pretty good’ driver (Bottas). In a dominant car, the difference between teammates isn’t always that apparent. Same goes for a backmarker team. Once Haas is back in the midfield, you will really see the difference between the two teammates.

    1. @matthijs

      I don’t think this is a fair point, because you’d expect him to be always on his usual best and also the car has not always been dominant

      I don’t agree. Lewis doesn’t seem to have the personality that makes him naturally super-focused on F1, which is required to really be the best he can be. He seems to generally force himself to hyperfocus by adopting a siege mentality: ‘they are against me, so I have to work really hard to make up for the unfairness.’ However, even then he typically has severe slumps every season.

      The issue is that Bottas is one of the hardest drivers to vilify, both in personality and in his willingness to fight hard on track. So in the absence of other ‘enemies’, I would expect Bottas to drag Lewis down to his level by demotivating Lewis, although the latter is has so much talent than Bottas that Lewis is never going to be under threat.

    2. I think Hamilton only fights as hard as he needs to. It’s not a surprise that when he had to delve deep into his reserves he was able to destroy Bottas in a way he hadn’t done over the last 4 years as he was involved in an actual battle. Unlike Vettel who got a kick out of almost humiliating the field in 2013.

      1. True, it’s a big difference between hamilton and vettel, vettel in fact is at his best when he has a dominant car.

  7. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    21st December 2021, 10:57

    Portugal, Spain and Russia are just 3 GPs where Valtteri came 3rd or worse. With all the ifs and buts to be able to keep up with his team mate they were places that would of taken points off Verstappen.

    1. Portugal and spain imo merc had the best car, not by a huge margin, but very clear and bottas only lost to verstappen because he’s a slower driver, russia however was terrible for bottas and he didn’t even deserve to score points, was lucky in the end, but that was also the case for verstappen and hamilton, both gained points through the tyre choices they made + the rain.

  8. Yeah, this year it really showed how big the gap is between the two especially once things were not going exactly to plan.

    Apart from Monaco, where his race had really been good until the wheel got stuck for 3 days, and a solid showing in Turkey, it is hard to point to many highlights of Bottas season.

  9. Bottas was the perfect Barrichello. He was faster more commited and more tame as a character. I think Bottas needs to wake up because his team could care less about him, it was all about Lewis, Bottas succeding was a problem. Whenever Bottas did well the team needed to find a way to please Lewis, Lewis is thr money maker, the whole reason the team didn’t fall through back at the end of 2012. Bottas was only allowed to be a priority whenever Hamilton had a bad weekend.
    Despite all this, despite his ex wife getting visibly disgusted by the way Bottas was treated Bottas was always loyal. Mercedes loved Bottas and I’m sure he would have stayed with the teams if it wasn’t for the prospect of a Ham replacer, another British marketable talent.
    Bottas was visibly devestated by the loss of the championship, I would not be surprised if his bonus total was not greater than his salary.

    1. He was devastated because he knew his underperformance was instrumental in the race playing out as it did…a sour end to the year, and as you indicated, probably a hit to the bonus. I wish Hekki 2.0 well, and am genuinely excited to see what George Russell can do…he may well usurp Hamilton at Merc.

    2. Surely you mean you wouldn’t be surprised his bonus WAS greater than his salary, otherwise it’s confusing.

  10. In a midfield team, it is crucial to have consistent race pace. Really worried about Bottas performance in Alfa Romeo, unless the team builds a rocket.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t count bottas out from performing well like raikkonen did for a while when he wasn’t at ferrari, with the pressure off, remember bottas was quite good at williams before coming to merc.

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