The season has not even started yet and it already feels like the writing is on the wall for poor Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has challenged him to be on the same level as Lewis Hamilton if he wants to keep his seat, Esteban Ocon is there as reserve driver ready to pounce before Bottas’ seat even goes fully cold and he is now heading into the 2019 campaign without his long-term sponsor, Wihuri Group.
The Finnish conglomerate cited a “disappointing” season with a “weak result” as part of the reason why they have decided to pull the plug on Bottas’ sponsorship deal, something that has been in place for the best part of 20 years.
The long-standing relationship has now been reduced to rubble and dust with one blow of the sledgehammer and it is left to Bottas once again to try and pick up the pieces. Talk about kicking a man whilst he is down.
On pure face value, the 2018 season does not reflect kindly on Bottas, who became the first Mercedes driver since 2012 to go the entire campaign without clinching a solitary win.
Four consecutive P5 results to end the campaign showed no early warning signs that a 2019 revival is fully on the cards and his P5 finish in the World Championship standings was an unquestionable underachievement.
Yet things could have worked out very differently for Bottas, something which the likes of Late Braking and Chain Bear F1 have covered extensively.
Also, @lbraking – this ties in nicely with the section in my season review where I argue Bottas *could* have had a 38 point lead, mid season!
Glad I'm not the only crazy one in the room pic.twitter.com/F4DzuEegqh
— Chain Bear F1 (@chainbearf1) December 7, 2018
A very strong start to the season resulted in bad luck as opposed to a bagful of points, and that saw him become firmly entrenched as the fall guy for Mercedes.
He was unable to shake off the “wingman” tag attached to him after the Hungarian Grand Prix and was told to move aside for the main man Lewis Hamilton in Russia.
Mercedes hardly provided the platform and environment for Bottas to try and put his season right and, with the news his main sponsor has ditched him, he is still feeling the consequences of that even now.
Bottas has not reacted particularly well to previous setbacks. With every honest (sometimes too honest) critique of his performances, he does seem to regress further into his own shell.
It will be fascinating to see whether he uses this sponsor loss as more motivation to prove the increasing number of doubters wrong in 2019 or whether it will act as an early acknowledgement that his time in the big league is almost up.
Attention has already been turning to potential options for Bottas post-Mercedes, with a return to Williams the most obvious choice.
However, with drivers having to pay a heavy premium to land a seat with them, the lack of a major sponsor could impact his chances of staying in Formula 1 altogether.