Valtteri Bottas: Is he the right man for Mercedes?

The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team announced today that Finn Valtteri Bottas will fill the seat vacated by Nico Rosberg at the end of last season. Some will see him as de facto number two, yet he possesses the speed, reliability and approach to challenge his new team-mate.

One saga ends as another begins

The worst kept secret of this winter has finally been officially announced: Valtteri Bottas has been announced as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate for 2017 at least. On the face of it, it is strange that a leading team such as Mercedes would sign a driver on a one year deal, however it makes sense for both parties involved with the uncertainty of the new regulations looming. From the point of view of Bottas, if disaster were to strike and they found themselves lacking next year, he has an out. Should Mercedes wish to pursue the services of another driver at the end of the year though, they have the freedom to do so also.

Bottas has ability in spades and if he performs as he has in his previous seasons, Mercedes will endeavour to avoid another winter of discontent in Brackley. As we have seen, Lewis Hamilton is something akin to Goliath in the other Mercedes and it took all Nico Rosberg had to overcome the Briton. Bottas is (so far) the epitome of a cool customer and this will be key if he is to match Rosberg’s feat. In Toto Wolff’s words, he’s “pretty Finnish to be honest” and this is in his favour.

The new season is close at hand and we are being treated to a litany of mouth-watering inter-team pairings that coupled with the new regulations should keep us on the edge of our seats. The front of the field is very strong and so I for one can’t wait for the drivers to be on track in anger.

What can we expect from Bottas?

As mentioned before, the flying Finn possesses a cool demeanour that should serve him well as the heat is turned up in the Silver Arrows garages. Until now, he has been on the periphery of the action at the front of the pack, playing witness to his competitors fighting for honours. The man clearly has talent, yet the Grove-based Williams team has not succeeded in delivering a race-winning car.

Williams looked like they were close to challenging those ahead a couple of years back, but last season they slipped further behind their rivals and it looked as if Bottas would have to wait even longer to be placed into a Championship challenger.

Bottas Hamilton.jpg
Valtteri Bottas is about to face a team-mate a level above what he is accustomed to. Source: Sky Sports

This season will be markedly different to what he is used to. He has comprehensively beaten Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa in qualifying and race results, however Lewis Hamilton is a different kettle of fish altogether. On occasion he has been able to demonstrate his raw speed, putting himself on the podium nine times. In the past four seasons, his mere seven retirements show that he can bring the car home more often than not, and this is pivotal as Mercedes look to claim a fourth world drivers’ title in a row.

Another key thing to remember is that so far in his career, he has avoided scandal and fireworks – something Toto Wolff will be keen to avoid after a few years of babysitting Hamilton and Rosberg. He brings a mixture of low-key pace and reliability and this is of much importance given the impending revamp of the technical regulations posing a threat to the Silver Arrows dominance of recent times.

A shrewd move

Many will argue that Mercedes had little choice but to sign Bottas. F1 fans understandably lived in hope for a few weeks pre-Christmas that the top brass in Stuttgart would opt for a marquee signing of epic proportions in a bid to maximise marketing potential.

Bottas Wolff.jpg
Toto Wolff went for the safe option but Bottas is no number two. Source: BBC Sport.

Let’s face it, if they had made an attempt to sign Vettel, Alonso or either of the Red Bull pairing it would have made headlines, but the limitations would have outweighed the benefits hugely given F1’s history of putting two “leaders” in the same car.

They were in a good position and their engine supply to Williams no doubt had a say in clearing the path a little. Steadying the ship was the right way to go here and Wolff has navigated the treacherous waters expertly.. Who knows what the future holds: it may transpire that an acrimonious relationship develops between Bottas and Hamilton, but at this moment in time it strikes me as a sound decision.

The countdown to Melbourne…

Mercedes can be happy with their acquisition and at this moment in time, the other stakeholders will be too. Time will tell if it yields success on-track, but they have a powerful driver pairing that is arguably stronger than the one of the last four years. Bottas comes to the team free of the career-long comparisons to Hamilton and will be eager to prove his worth.

Aside from the Manor team, the teams have settled on their line-ups for this season with Mercedes development driver Pascal Wehrlein moving to Sauber and attention now turns to Melbourne. Let’s hope we see a competitive grid close in performance as F1 fans the world over crave the spectacle of a multi-team championship battle.

Featured image: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

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