Was Valtteri Bottas’ fastest lap attempt at the Dutch Grand Prix a sign of things to come as the Finn, out of Mercedes at the end of the season, takes back his power?
PlanetF1 gives its verdict…
I love a bit of drama, especially when it is the wingman finally growing a backbone.
Valtteri Bottas is, quite simply, not at the same standard as Lewis Hamilton, or Max Verstappen… and some days I feel even Nikita Mazepin has a lot more spunk than the Finnish racer. That’s 3.2 now isn’t it? Or it is version 4.4?
Either way like the Microsoft updates that inconveniently pop up and that do nothing but mess up my laptop, Bottas’ versions have been more glitchy than inspiring. At least it looked that way until Sunday’s defiance.
Heading into the closing laps of the Dutch Grand Prix, Mercedes decided to pit Bottas. Usually when a team does that, it is so that the driver can chase the fastest lap point. And then came the moment Mercedes realised it was Hamilton, their own driver and the one most in need of that point, who had the purple stopwatch next to his name.
“Valtteri this is James, please abort,” came the rather urgent message.
I’m pretty sure every F1 fan, except those supporting Hamilton, had a chuckle as Bottas – despite easing off – clocked the fastest lap anyway such was his pace through the first two-thirds of the lap on his shiny new Pirellis with low fuel. As a result Mercedes had to pit Hamilton again so that he could retake the point.
Can you imagine if the team had botched that pit stop? Can you feel the sweat and pressure dripping down the mechanics’ backs as Hamilton screamed into his pit box? On a day when Mercedes got just about everything wrong with their strategy, these late-race decisions took the cake.
Toto Wolff has called it a “bit cheeky” of Bottas to have put in a fastest lap, but says it is “understandable”. Of course it is, Bottas is plummeting down the grid next season, Sunday may have been one of his last chances ever to score a fastest lap point in Formula 1. And it could be just the start of Bottas finally doing what is best for Bottas.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) September 5, 2021
The Valtteri Bottas I saw on lap 70 of the Dutch Grand Prix is the Valtteri Bottas I have wanted to see ever since he stepped foot in the Mercedes back in 2017. As much as I have a love/hate relationship with his predecessor, Nico Rosberg, I had to agree with him when he said pre-race that Bottas has been “too nice” during his time with the Silver Arrows.
While being “too nice” has kept Bottas in a prime Mercedes seat for five seasons, you cannot help but wonder if he will walk away at the end of the season with some regret that he didn’t just push Hamilton’s buttons a little more over the years.
We have only seen glimpses of Bottas being a little more selfish and that’s always been my main frustration with him. On Sunday he still backed off and, back in Spain, while not making things too easy for Hamilton behind as he went in pursuit of Max Verstappen, he still ultimately played his wingman role.
I’m not suggesting for one second that Bottas needed to ask for a copy of Rosberg’s playbook ahead of his move to Mercedes, but I feel he has been walked over too many times. As fun as it was to see Bottas go into business for himself on Sunday, that feeling was soon replaced with a pang of sadness.
It’s too late now, Valtteri.
If this was Valtteri Bottas’ last act of defiance before his departure was announced, you can’t blame him for wanting to send Mercedes a bit of a message – albeit one which was undone within a couple of laps.
Any time you hear James Vowles on the radio, you know it’s not good news. Bottas has had to be the ultimate team player at times, and I agree with my colleagues that it was about time he departed from his usual placid and flexible work for Mercedes.
Reading between the lines, you could argue that Hamilton previously calling the Finn his ‘best ever team-mate’ loosely translates to ‘he’s the team-mate who I know I’m better than, but he doesn’t put up too much fuss about it.’
So even one simple act of giving the apple cart an ever-so-slight wobble should hopefully give him at least a crumb of satisfaction, but not much more than that.
Bottas’ 63rd F1 podium on Sunday moved him ahead of David Coulthard and behind only Rubens Barrichello as the driver with the most top-three finishes without winning a World Championship.
Of course, almost every driver entering F1 would snap your hand off for those statistics, but having had a title-winning car for each of the last five seasons, he’ll probably leave the team wondering what might have been.
However, like Coulthard and Barrichello before him, you can’t help having a driver who’s quite simply a bit better than you sharing the same garage.
Watching Bottas briefly ignore team orders, three words came to mind for me: “Good on you.”
Not for the first time since joining Mercedes, he had his own race ruined by the team for Hamilton’s sake, and while that was largely his own fault as he couldn’t keep up with the Brit, it was hard not to feel a little sorry for him.
The big question now is, with him leaving at the end of the year, will he stop playing the team game completely? After all, given that he’s heading off in a few months, what’s in it for him?
If he did refuse to help his team-mate in the remaining rounds, it could have big implications for the title fight, especially with Sergio Perez likely willing to do all he can to assist Max Verstappen.
I can’t see that happening though. Even at Zandvoort, Bottas did ultimately do as he was told and back off in the final sector after Vowles got on the radio, and that’s probably how any act of defiance is going to end for the remainder of the season.
Why? Beats me. Maybe it’s out of respect for his team-mate; maybe he doesn’t want to leave on a sour note; maybe he simply can’t be bothered with the drama.
Regardless, as a spectator, I can’t help but wish we’d see a bit more of Bad Boy Bottas before the season is over. Given how obedient he has been for the past five seasons, it feels like he deserves to finally put himself first.
I guess I have become a little immune to these moment where Valtteri sticks up for himself, because they are always a false dawn.
The iconic “to whom it may concern, f*** you”, while forever cemented in Bottas’ legacy, will always feel like somewhat of a parody, as this has never really been his true attitude as a Mercedes driver.
Bottas still set the fastest lap in the closing stages at the Dutch Grand Prix despite lifting off to the orders of James Vowles, so why make a half-baked attempt? If he was going to go for it, then just go for it.
In the end Lewis Hamilton was able to respond and snatch that fastest lap bonus point for himself, a needless risk created by Mercedes for sure as they subsequently forced that late Hamilton pit stop, but ultimately, as Toto Wolff said himself, “at the end everything is good”.
All signs point towards George Russell replacing Bottas at Mercedes for 2022, and it would be the right call – after five largely mediocre years in the Mercedes, Bottas has had his chance and will now look to establish himself at Alfa Romeo with his multi-year contract.
I just hope that now the news on Mercedes’ 2022 line-up is confirmed, Bottas will show a bit of an edge and drive the remainder of his races for himself.