Why Valtteri Bottas is unlucky not be alongside Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the title race

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The world title battle may be a two way duel between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, but Valtteri Bottas could have been in the thick of it only for bad luck.

The Finn qualified on the front row in Austria and, despite a slow start, pulled his way back to second only to have to retire after 13 laps due to mechanical failure.

It is unlikely Bottas would have had enjoyed a Hollywood ending in Spielberg, especially if both Mercedes cars remained in the race, but if things had gone his way he could certainly have been at the sharp end of the championship alongside his teammate.

As a result of his retirement, that’s potentially 24 points lost in two weeks – after being taken out by Vettel at the first corner in France last week when he qualified on the front row at Paul Ricard.

“The luck I’m having this year feels like a bit of a bad joke,” Bottas said after the race in Austria on Sunday.

“My start was not ideal – I had quite a bit of wheel spin, and there was less grip than we expected so I dropped a few places. Going into Turn 3 I could recover two places and was back in second place.

“After that, the car felt strong, we were running well, but then I suddenly experienced a loss of hydraulic pressure.”

The 28-year-old is now sixth in the drivers’ standings on 92 points, a place where he doesn’t deserve to be, with title leader Vettel 54 points ahead and Hamilton one point behind the German.

Since hitting a wall in qualifying in Melbourne, the Monaco resident has been superb and has gone on to qualify second or third in nearly every race this season, except Monaco where his lack of pace saw him start from fifth on the grid.

In Bahrain, he missed out on overtaking Vettel on the last lap – where he perhaps showed too much caution and effectively bottled his chance of victory, with stronger tyres over the German’s faded rubber.

But it was in Shanghai and Baku where his misfortune cost him valuable points.

In China, Mercedes’ poor decision-making on not pitting during the safety car saw Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – on fresher tyres – come from nowhere to snatch a remarkable victory from Bottas, who was leading up until lap 45.

Two weeks later in Azerbaijan, he led again after a safety car, but with three laps remaining sustained a puncture from running over debris and lost what looked like a guaranteed 25 points – and first victory of the season.

If luck was on his side in Baku, Bahrain and Shanghai, it could have been the former Williams man sitting alongside Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the standings.

Although he lacks the killer-instinct of both men in those pressurised situations – often the tipping point between winning and losing – he is clearly one of the most talented drivers on the circuit.

But for all his setbacks this season, Bottas has done enough to be retained by Mercedes in 2019, given his four podium finishes and positive relationship with Hamilton.

The gap may be lengthy when you look at the title standings in reality, but the Finn – for all his bad luck – must be left wondering if he will ever be able to reach the rarefied air shared by Vettel and Hamilton.

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Lewis Hamilton unhappy after Mercedes blunder costs him in Austria

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Lewis Hamilton lamented his retirement in Austria as the “worst race he can remember for a long time” following a Mercedes blunder that cost him victory and the lead in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton will head into his home race at Silverstone in just six days one point behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel after the Briton failed to finish following a mechanical failure.

The defending champion had already accused Mercedes of costing him a straightforward win after, and not for the first time this season, they failed to react to a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period, caused

by Valtteri Bottas’ retirement in the sister car, and stop him for new tyres.

Hamilton dropped from first to fourth, and following a series of furious exchanges with the Mercedes pit wall, he then ran out of power with only seven laps remaining.

“This is definitely the worst weekend I can remember us having for a long time,” Hamilton said.

“I am not going to lie, we’re going to have to work on all areas. We can’t afford to throw away points. We need to find a bulletproof method to move forward.

“We have lost a lot of points this year through bad calls and reliability. Everyone is going to be feeling the pain.

“We have had such great reliability for so many years and as painful as it is, we have to take the rough with the smooth. But I have every confidence in my team that we will be able to bounce back.”

Hamilton’s retirement, his first in 33 races, ensured a 15-point championship swing in Vettel’s favour.

Mercedes have dominated the sport since 2014, but mistakes are creeping in under the fiercer competition provided by both Ferrari and Red Bull this year.

In Austria, apparently distracted by Bottas stopping on track following a lack of hydraulic pressure, they took their eye off the ball, and when the VSC was deployed to slow down the pack, Hamilton, unlike all of his rivals, did not stop for fresh rubber.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes chief, dismissed the need for a knee-jerk reaction, even though he admitted it had been his most painful day in his years with the team.
“We don’t need to make changes,” he said. “The situation is very complex this year. We are fighting six cars.

“We made a mistake. We were controlling the race, running one and two, and suddenly Valtteri stopped. The VSC came out, we had half-a-lap to react and we didn’t. Fact. This is where we lost the race.”

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Max Verstappen steals the show and other takeaways from Austrian Grand Prix

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Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull stayed cool in the heat to win the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, while Sebastian Vettel took over first place in the driver standings.

Verstappen took his fourth Grand Prix victory ahead of the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel, who came third.

Lewis Hamilton began the race top of the standings, but he and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who started in pole position, both dropped out with mechanical problems.

Here’s our main takeaways from Austria.

Verstappen roars into life

Starting from P4, the Dutchman produced another impressive and mature drive. The 20-year-old is finally making up for his error-strewn start to the season, with four podiums in his last five races. But the Monaco resident looked magical around the sweeping circuit in Austria, pushing hard ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen late on to seal his first win of 2018. With his teammate Daniel Ricciardo retiring with 17 laps remaining when in third, it proved to be a mixed weekend for Red Bull on their home ground.

Hamilton struggles

A race that started with so much promise ended in despair for the Briton when he was forced to retire with seven raps remaining. Apart from his retirement, his biggest frustration will be Mercedes’ decision not to pit under the virtual safety car on lap 15. When Hamilton did pit 11 laps later, he came out fourth and was clearly angry with his team. He said over the radio that the team “had thrown away a win”, something that definitely wouldn’t have gone down well in the garage. As disappointing as his retirement may be in Austria, it’s still a minor blip on the calendar with another 12 races remaining in the championship. Remarkably, it’s Mercedes first double retirement since Spain in 2016, after Valtteri Bottas bowed out earlier in the race.

Vettel takes title lead

The new title leader bounced back after hitting Bottas on the first lap in France last week, finishing third in Austria. Starting sixth on the grid, Vettel benefited from an early pitstop under the virtual safety car to storm into contention for the win. His standout moment in Spielberg was his stunning overtake on Hamilton on lap 39 to climb into a podium position. We may only be nine races through the season, but Vettel will not want a repeat of 2017 when he lost his firm grip on the title after the summer break. The 30-year-old is now back in control of the title race and needs to stay composed and minimise his errors behind the wheel for the remaining races. If can do this then expect him to win a fifth world title.

Unlucky Bottas

The title fight may be between Hamilton and Vettel, but Bottas could be right in there only for bad luck. Starting on pole in Austria, the Finn dropped down to fourth after a poor start and pushed his way back to second. However, he was forced to retire on the 14th lap due to a gearbox failure. That’s potentially 24 points lost now in two weeks for the 28-year-old – after he was taken out by Vettel at the first corner in France last week when qualifying on the front row at Paul Ricard. At Spielberg, he could have held on for a podium place only for the mechanical issue to force him out a quarter of the way into the race. It’s unlikely Bottas would have beaten Hamilton, but if things had gone his way then he could be right at the sharp end of the championship alongside his teammate.

Haas revival

A stunning result for Haas. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen capitalised on the retirements of Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo to finish fourth and fifth respectively – the best result for the American side in their short history. The duo showed once again that they have the potential to threaten the bigger midfield teams, especially in the European races. Grosjean and Magnussen looked consistent throughout the race and the car had good pace and balance to remain ahead of Renault and Force India. Their 22 points scooped from two top-5 finishes in Austria means Haas are now fifth in the constructors’ championship – five points ahead of a struggling McLaren.

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