Valtteri Bottas silenced his doubters with a stunning performance on Sunday afternoon in Sochi as he claimed his first F1 victory at the 81st time of asking. En route to the win on the Black Sea coast, the flying Finn was incredibly quick and remained ice-cool under pressure, sending a clear message to his championship rivals.
Number two after three?
Prior to the weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Bottas had suffered something akin to a beating over the course of the season’s first three races. A solid start in Melbourne was followed by a silly mistake in Shanghai and lack of pace in Sakhir that put him firmly on the back foot. Despite the season being so young, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff had already faced questions as to whether he should assign number one status to Bottas’ team-mate Lewis Hamilton. It looked very likely that this approach could be adopted by Mercedes. He needed a great weekend after a rough ride.
The performance that Bottas put in on Sunday was the perfect riposte.
Nico Rosberg proved that in order to beat Hamilton over the course of the season, you not only have to have speed but also incredible mental fortitude and Valtteri Bottas has both in spades. He was downtrodden after Bahrain, on the ropes. A number two driver would have caved and merely accepted his status. Valtteri did no such thing and the result of his Lazarus-esque comeback was nothing short of amazing.
A stunning Sunday
Qualifying on Saturday saw the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen put themselves in the ideal position to be able to bring home a Scuderia one-two, however Valtteri Bottas had other plans for the afternoon and was in no mood for the Prancing Horse to canter off into the distance.
He made quick work of both at the start and never looked back. He had consistently rapid pace throughout the race and barring a lock-up in the closing stages drove faultlessly. Even in the dying embers with a blistering Sebastian Vettel bearing down on him, he remained unflappable and brought it home for an impressive first win.
In stark contrast, Lewis Hamilton was nowehere all weekend. The man that had almost proclaimed the championship battle a two horse race between himself and Vettel was conspicuous by his absence and in the no man’s land of a distant fourth place had no answer to his team-mate’s pace. His inability to massage his Silver Arrow into its optimum operating window put pay to his race and he was well and truly outshone by Bottas.
He didn’t inherit the victory or luck into it. He was quick, consistent and impervious to pressure. If you have those three qualities you’re going to be there or thereabouts at the fall of the chequered flag and with the first victory under his belt, his confidence will continue to grow and he can mount a substantial title tilt from here.
What’s clear as the Formula One circus heads to Barcelona is that Valtteri has, in the space of the Russian Grand Prix weekend, disproven the notion that he is the number two driver at Mercedes. The reactions of Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda bordered on surprise but they’ll be over the moon that their man can take the fight not only to Hamilton but those in red too.
Whether Lewis Hamilton likes it or not, he will at the very least be pushed hard by Bottas. The season is still young, but Bottas has grown into the Mercedes team and looks at home already. The championship is a long old slog but he’s here to stay which is great for the sport.
Like many others I was guilty of waxing lyrical at the prospect of a Hamilton-Vettel love-in but Bottas’ response and performance deserve enormous credit and if he maintains this level of performance Mercedes have a real headache.
Fantastic job, Valtteri. Congratulations on your first victory and here’s to many more.