In Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix Valtteri Bottas was asked to move over so that Lewis Hamilton could launch an assault on Sebastian Vettel at the front and fight for the win. Mercedes nailed their colours to the mast under the floodlights and Bottas needs to adjust quickly if he is to be more than just a support for his decorated team-mate.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
In moving to the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team, Valtteri Bottas has not only placed himself into machinery capable of delivering race victories but also under the spotlight as he goes toe-to-toe with F1’s heavyweights in a fair fight for the first time.
His performances are scrutinised like never before by his team, the paddock and millions of fans the world over and there is nowehere to hide. His time in the relative obscurity of the midfield is at an end and he has a golden opportunity to realise his dreams. With great power, though, comes great responsibility and Sunday would have brought the realisation that the honeymoon period is well and truly over for the flying Finn. Going up against the force of nature that is Hamilton is a brave move for Bottas and the sort that can make or break a career.
The season is only three races old and although Bottas appears to already be adrift of the Hamilton-Vettel love-in it is way too early to hit the panic button. Formula One is incredibly unpredictable and as last season showed, your fortunes can turn around in a second. The points deficit is not unsumountable but what will hurt more is his team asking him to move over for Hamilton at such an early point in the season.
It was necessary. On Sunday Bottas did not have the pace of either Vettel or Hamilton and to give themselves their best chance of victory Mercedes ordered Bottas to stand aside and allow the latter to hunt down his German rival.
The contrast is striking between this approach and that of recent years. The Silver Arrows have dominated the hybrid era and this has allowed them to give their drivers the freedom to race. 2017 is a different kettle of fish, however and with Ferrari becoming a serious challenger to their supremacy, doing everything they can to extract maximum points over a race weekend is more critical than ever.
“As a racing driver it’s the worst thing you want to hear, but that’s life”
The Silver Arrows need both their men to be performing at the highest standard and it is the lack of pace shown by Bottas that necessitated the team order. We are only in the opening exchanges of the season but the Brackley-based squad have to think of the long game and if the pace difference between Hamilton and Bottas remains, they may soon find themselves having to give Hamilton number one status and freedom of strategy.
It was soul-crushing for Bottas when the orders came oer the radio, but Formula One is unforgiving and Mercedes needs titles. Hamiton has a slight performance and points advantage over Bottas and if this persists much longer then the team may have to bestow number one status upon him. You could argue that it’s too soon, but there is no such thing as ‘too soon’ in F1. You have to take inititiave and take the Bull by the horns.
Bottas could turn things around of course and is still settling in to the new environment, but Mercedes do not have time on their hands. They will need to act quickly if they are to take the fight to Ferrari and give us the showdown the F1 fraternity has craved. If he is to earn equal or even first driver status, Bottas has to find the missing pace and soon.
With things as they stand, Mercedes could be forgiven for putting all of their eggs in the Hamilton basket and they have not ruled out favouring one driver as the season progresses. This may be difficult for Bottas but he made the decision to join Mercedes and needs to prove his worth.
Meanwhile, Hamilton is relishing the battle with Vettel that he has wanted for so long and these two titans going up against each other for the championship is a brilliant prospect.