Why Bottas is not given enough credit for his Mercedes F1 job

OPINION: Having to provide competition for Lewis Hamilton within the Mercedes framework, Valtteri Bottas hasn't had an easy ride in Formula 1 of late. His fellow Finn and two-time Formula 1 champion Mika Hakkinen says Bottas is due much more credit that he has been given

Why Bottas is not given enough credit for his Mercedes F1 job

I am fascinated by what it takes to be successful in Formula 1. It’s one of the reasons I continue to follow the championship so closely. So when I see some of the unfair comments about Valtteri Bottas, it’s worthwhile giving some perspective based on my own experience.

I know what it is like to go up against the best driver of a generation - in my case, Ayrton Senna - and to have worked with very strong team-mates throughout my career. From Johnny Herbert to Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell to Nigel Mansell and, of course, David Coulthard.

None of them were slow. All of them very quick, committed and capable Formula 1 drivers.

It is very easy to talk about someone who is world champion, winning all the time, and to then criticise their team-mate. It’s an easy comparison, but one which avoids the big picture of what it’s like to be one-half of a championship winning team. I won two world championships partly because ‘DC’ was such a strong team-mate.

When McLaren put me in their car alongside Ayrton Senna it was a fantastic opportunity, but a massive challenge. Suddenly it was my experience versus Ayrton’s experience. And what is ‘experience’? Is it the number of laps you have done, or your ability to study the data, or how clever and intelligent you are about what’s going on within the team?

Actually it’s about all of those things together with the dynamic in the team; the small things that, on their own do not seem important, but added together means you are not quite where you want to be. I realised during my career that each mechanic, engineer or data technician worked in specific ways, and in the intense environment of Formula 1 even a small change in personnel can impact on performance.

Podium: race winner Ayrton Senna, McLaren, third place Mika Hakkinen, McLaren

Podium: race winner Ayrton Senna, McLaren, third place Mika Hakkinen, McLaren

Photo by: Sutton Images

Changing the human dynamics can be as important as changing the set-up of the car.

People always ask me about out-qualifying Ayrton in my first race at McLaren, although not many will ask Valtteri about the 17 times he has out-qualified Lewis. For some reason my achievement was regarded as difficult, whereas if you drive a Mercedes it’s easy.

PLUS: How the driver who shocked Senna became an F1 legend

I only went up against Ayrton for three races, but it taught me so much. About how much I had to learn, not only in terms of understanding how to get the best performance out of my car, but also to understand how the team works, the way in which a team focuses its efforts.

During my career there were times when, for example, the tyres were not working for me and my team-mate was suddenly seven-tenths quicker. Even with softer tyres on, you find yourself doing the same times as on a set of hards. It’s an awful feeling, so you start looking at all the temperatures, pressures, car set up - trying to find what your team-mate is doing.

I know what it feels like to put your team-mate’s settings on your car and then find it very difficult to drive, except the lap time turns out to be half a second quicker! That’s all part of the learning curve. It teaches you to become open minded about the guy on the other side of the garage, and to become less selfish.

This team work between drivers is such an important aspect for a top team. Mercedes knows better than anyone what can happen when you have two drivers fighting each other in a way which can be destructive. Part of Valtteri’s job since he joined them was to work beside Lewis, push as hard as possible, but keep the communication flowing.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2nd position, in Parc Ferme

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2nd position, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Generating a positive atmosphere in the team and pulling in the same direction is a vital quality. It’s important when you are the dominant team, but becomes critical when you have tough competition or, as will happen in 2022, an entirely new set of regulations arrive. Regulations which rely on the two drivers working harder than ever to give the team a solid base to work from.

PLUS: The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break

Only one team-mate can win the world championship, and to do that they usually have to win more races than everyone else - this includes beating the guy sharing the garage with them. When you are both in the same car that battle is never easy. As a world champion you inevitably build the team around you, leaving your team-mate with a lot more work to do.

When I was racing I used to complain all the time, especially to my manager Keke Rosberg. I think it was a generational thing. I used to say this or that was not right in the team, and Keke used to tell me to shut up and put my foot down.

Now we have a very different era, one in which there is infinitely more analysis available to the drivers and their teams. That has also brought a great respect for the challenge that faces drivers tasked with winning grands prix or supporting their team-mates.

To time a qualifying run in order to support your team-mate, as Valtteri did in Silverstone when he gave Lewis a tow, or to give way during a race so that the team’s strategy can be maximised, is not easy. Mercedes takes a very fair approach, and Valtteri knows his job is to beat the team’s competition, particularly now that Red Bull and Honda have made a major step forward.

Since moving from Williams to Mercedes I know that Valtteri has never stopped pushing, learning and developing as a driver. He scored nine podiums for Williams and helped them to third in the world constructors' championship for two consecutive years, but he also realised Mercedes was on an entirely different level. A very different challenge.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, leaves the garage

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, leaves the garage

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

When I moved from Team Lotus to McLaren it was a similar experience. I knew I was in the right place, with the right people and technology around me, so it felt like a huge release. However, when you join a team where the people know how to succeed, you have so much to learn. Valtteri has taken the same approach.

As Lewis’s team-mate he has the most formidable competitor beside him. It has been unbelievable to watch how calm, controlled and determined Valtteri has remained, how hard he has continued to work despite the challenge - and easy criticisms. He just focuses on attacking each weekend as hard as he can, giving the best of himself for the team.

There is a popular myth that winning grands prix is easy when you have the best car. That only shows a misunderstanding of the challenge.

There is nothing easy about winning in F1, whether twenty races for me or nine grands prix for Valtteri. It’s even harder when you have a multiple world champion beside you in the garage.

For any team aiming to sustain a world championship-winning performance the degree of harmony and focus within the driver line-up is an important ingredient. It is one reason why I am certain Valtteri deserves greater credit for the job he has done.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, and pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, and pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Ocon: "Fighting spirit" Alpine's big strength in F1 battle for fifth
Previous article

Ocon: "Fighting spirit" Alpine's big strength in F1 battle for fifth

Next article

Verstappen's F1 engine set for Hungarian GP practice checks

Verstappen's F1 engine set for Hungarian GP practice checks
The Moss-Ferrari farce that current F1 drivers are thankfully spared Plus

The Moss-Ferrari farce that current F1 drivers are thankfully spared

Recent moves within the driver market have reminded MAURICE HAMILTON of a time when contracts weren’t worth the paper they weren’t written on…

Audi’s innovative first assault on grand prix racing Plus

Audi’s innovative first assault on grand prix racing

It has been a long time coming but Audi’s arrival in Formula 1 is finally on the horizon for 2026. But it won’t be its first foray into grand prix racing, as the German manufacturer giant has a history both long and enthralling

Formula 1
Sep 23, 2022
The seven factors powering Verstappen's 2022 F1 domination Plus

The seven factors powering Verstappen's 2022 F1 domination

After a tooth and nail and, at times, toxic Formula 1 world championship scrap last year, Max Verstappen's march to a second consecutive title has been the exact opposite. But has he really changed in 2022? Here's a dive into what factors have played a crucial role, both inside the Verstappen camp and elsewhere, in the Dutch driver's domination

Formula 1
Sep 23, 2022
Why Hamilton is still the man to keep driving Mercedes forward Plus

Why Hamilton is still the man to keep driving Mercedes forward

Lewis Hamilton’s words in a recent Vanity Fair interview define both his world-view and his approach to this season: one of perpetual struggle against adversity. As GP RACING explains, that’s what Lewis feeds off – and why, far from being down and nearly out, he’s using his unique skillset to spearhead Mercedes’ revival…

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2022
The time lag of ideas that offers intrigue over F1's future fight Plus

The time lag of ideas that offers intrigue over F1's future fight

The pecking order in 2022's Formula 1 season may look pretty static as the season draws to a close, but the unique nature of the cost cap means that preparation for next season takes precedence. New developments are being pushed back to 2023 - which could mask the technical development war ongoing...

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2022
How one retro event could prove an alluring prospect for Formula 1 stars Plus

How one retro event could prove an alluring prospect for Formula 1 stars

While Formula 1 drivers taking part in retro events can prove costly, as Charles Leclerc discovered at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, the Goodwood Revival could prove an interesting experiment for today's stars. As the event's own Tourist Trophy race proves it means serious business, a race for current F1 drivers feels as though it’s in line with where the event is currently at

Goodwood Revival
Sep 21, 2022
The surprise biggest indicator of Ferrari's 2022 F1 points downfall Plus

The surprise biggest indicator of Ferrari's 2022 F1 points downfall

Looking back to the early races of 2022 and Ferrari’s challenge to Red Bull and Max Verstappen was going better than many expected. But it has lost so much ground a surprise rival can even pip Charles Leclerc to runner-up in the standings if given the chance

Formula 1
Sep 20, 2022
How Tyrrell and Stewart forged parallel paths to F1 stardom Plus

How Tyrrell and Stewart forged parallel paths to F1 stardom

The young Ken Tyrrell was barely 
aware of motor racing – until a trip with 
his village football team to the British
 Grand Prix set him on the road to
 becoming a Formula 1 constructor. MAURICE HAMILTON details the humble beginning of Tyrrell and how Ken linked up with Jackie Stewart…

Formula 1
Sep 19, 2022