To say that Valtteri Bottas had a disappointing 2018 would be an understatement. The Finn achieved no race victories over a season in which fellow countryman Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first in 113 entries. Perhaps worse still was finishing 5th in the World Driver’s Championship behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and a huge 161 points behind his Championship winning teammate Lewis Hamilton. 2018 was without a doubt a year to forget. Nonetheless, Bottas was retained by Mercedes in July 2018 for one more year with an optional extension. It seems then his recovery from the disappointment of 2018 will be critical in deciding whether retains his seat beyond 2019.
With Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings, eager to get back into the sport Bottas really has no room for error in the upcoming season. It seems that he will have to at the very least begin to match his teammate intermittently through the year. It’s a task he’s known to be capable of. Despite a disappointing 2018, in his first season with Mercedes Bottas took three race victories. One might even speculate that in 2018 he deserved better than he got too. As team orders barred him from pursuing a probable race victory in Sochi and a near certain win was dashed by a last minute picture in Baku.
That being said, it could also be argued Bottas has lacked a certain ruthless edge at times. The kind one might expect from a championship contending driver such as Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton. Mistakes in Melbourne qualifying and a failure to take the fight to a wounded Vettel in Bahrain last year spring to mind. This is despite the German being forced to take the ‘soft’ compound for 38 laps (30% beyond it’s estimated lifespan!) and Bottas climbing to within DRS range towards the end of the GP. Still, he was only able to mount a tepid attack on the then championship leader, settling for second place.
Bottas enters 2019 vulnerable and with a target on his back. This is despite the prestige he accrued at Williams and indeed in his first year at Mercedes. Nevertheless, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has stated he remains firmly behind him at the launch of the 2019 car, the W10, Wolff insisted that “Valtteri knows he has the full backing of the team to succeed,” adding that “He’s excited to get back in the car and show his critics what he can do,”. The question remains about just how much Mercedes will actually allow that to happen after the preferential treatment given to Lewis Hamilton for much of the 2018 season. But again, much of this will come down to just how Bottas keeps up with the five time world champion.
So as you watch the action from Melbourne next week and indeed over the entire season, keep an eye out for Valtteri Bottas. It shouldn’t be too hard, he’s sure to be fairly close to front in his silver Mercedes but just how close may just determine his future. With Ferrari looking to have the fastest package heading into Australia, he is a man under considerable pressure.