There have been times this season when Valtteri Bottas has seemed like an afterthought both within the four walls of Mercedes and in the broader spectrum of this season’s world championship.
But the reality is that after just nine races he is a mere 15 points behind Lewis Hamilton, supposedly the quickest driver on the grid.
In addition, following a dominant drive to victory at the Austrian Grand Prix, he is also the grateful recipient of two chequered flags in contrast to the three wins apiece for Sebastian Vettel and teammate Hamilton.
That Bottas has done so is no mean feat. Hamilton has made drivers of the calibre of Fernando Alonso look distinctly average in the same machinery and, it’s worth noting in the context of that particularly analogy, that Alonso and Hamilton were both coming fresh to McLaren at the same time.
What Bottas has done deserves to be much less under the radar then it is currently.
Hamilton already had four seasons under his belt at Mercedes before the Finn’s arrival as a replacement for Nico Rosberg during the winter, so Bottas was on the back foot from the outset.
He was solid without being spectacular in his opening races with two podiums and a sixth place before his maiden victory at the Russian Grand Prix, a circuit where he has always shone for Mercedes.
But even more impressive have been his last three races: two second places and a win warranting him 61 points. In contrast, in that trio of grands prix Vettel boasts a points tally of 40 while Hamilton has accrued 47 points.
On paper, Bottas is the current form man on the track, albeit in slightly less headline-grabbing circumstances than his two realistic rivals for the title.
What the 27-year-old must surely have warranted is a contract for next season, although on arrival at the Red Bull Ring, team boss Toto Wolff reiterated the fact his was a one-year deal with all other options on the table for 2018, with suggestions Fernando Alonso might even make the switch alongside Hamilton.
Sticking with Bottas makes total sense. He’s quick, reliable and has not rocked the boat at Mercedes – i.e. there’s not been a repeat of the histrionics that emanated from either side of the garage week in, week out in the days where Rosberg and Hamilton were inter-team sparring partners.
And Bottas also poses a realistic prospect of being world champion come the season’s end, unlike Vettel’s teammate in Kimi Raikkonen.
But therein lies a potential problem for the team as it approaches the halfway point in the season at the British Grand Prix.
Ferrari effectively know they can put all their eggs in one basket for Vettel in the title race. Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene knows it, Vettel and Raikkonen know it, and as such the team is going all out for their No1 to be victorious.
With Hamilton there might be the sense that he is first choice at Mercedes – unsurprising bearing in mind he has provided the team with two world championship titles and is an established member of the team.
I’d suggested earlier in the season that Mercedes would do well to turn their attentions to Hamilton solely in the title race, yet Bottas has proved me totally wrong, and Mercedes were right in their insistence that it was too early in the season to make such a call.
He might not be the title favourite but his second victory – this time in Austria – cements his place in the conversation.
Is that to the detriment of Hamilton’s championship charge? Yes and no.
For most drivers, being outdone by your teammate, denied points in the championship race and have part of your team’s attention taken away would be a negative.
But Hamilton has repeatedly said that the more challengers in the title race the better, within his team included, a sentiment that seems genuine. In Bottas, he truly has one now.
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