In his first year at Mercedes Valtteri Bottas produced a season of two halves which contrasted sharply.
The first half was so good it made a contract extension for 2018 a formality. After the summer break he slumped, prompting speculation Mercedes might look elsewhere for 2019.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/19|
|Beat team mate in race||8/19|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||491/1167|
Given he was driving a car which had been developed for Nico Rosberg, Bottas hit the ground running with his new team. It took just three races for him to put the car on pole position. In the subsequent race a tyre pressure error wrecked his first stint, but next time out at Sochi he won in style, jumping the Ferraris at the start and resisting the attentions of Sebastian Vettel.
His championship hopes took a knock in Spain. Both Mercedes drivers had new power units but Bottas’s failed in practice, forcing him to use an old example which also expired in the race. But despite losing a potential 15 points he remained in the title hunt. This was thanks to a second victory at Austria (following a suspicious perfect but legal getaway from pole position) and a marvellous recovery drive at Silverstone after a gearbox change penalty.
As the summer break neared Bottas was still a title contender. After Hamilton handed him third place back at the Hungaroring the pair went on holiday tied 5-5 over the ten races where both had finished, Hamilton just 19 points ahead. It underlined what a fine job Bottas had done, particularly in getting the most out of the W08 when it was not at its best.
When the championship resumed in Italy that all changed. Bottas started and finished behind his team mate at the next six races in a row and would have done so again in Mexico had Vettel not hit Hamilton at the start. In Malaysia he took the chequered flag over 40 seconds behind Hamilton and at the Circuit of the Americas he lost touch with the lead pack.
How had it gone so badly wrong? It seemed that as the Mercedes grew stronger, Hamilton found new reserves of pace Bottas couldn’t match. That changed once Hamilton had won the title: Bottas took two poles in a row and after a limp showing in Brazil he ended the season on a high with victory in Abu Dhabi.
Bottas felt this marked a turnaround from his mid-season slump. But it’s doubtful his team mate was operating at full strength at this point in the year: As in 2015 Hamilton was clearly no longer giving one hundred percent once the title was in his pocket.
Taking the season as a whole Bottas had much to be proud of. Having been parachuted into the team he ended the year closer to Hamilton on points than Rosberg did two years ago.
But Bottas, who is utterly frank about his shortcomings, heads into the off-season knowing he must turn things around if he is to remain a Mercedes driver for the long term.
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After the first half of the season, there was a strong argument for him being first on this list, but now, not so much. He was pretty woeful in the majority of the second half, bar Abu Dhabi and Brazil qualifying. He’s cemented his place as the second driver, despite looking like he could challenge Hamilton in the first half. Overall he did pretty well though, and being just the fourth driver to get over 300 points in a season is impressive.
What’s your verdict on Valtteri Bottas’s 2017 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than him? Have your say in the comments.
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