Victory in the Australia season-opener cast the memories of a dire end of 2018 out of Bottas’s mind and proved he’d rebuilt himself as an F1 driver. Up against the toughest benchmark in F1 in Lewis Hamilton, he performed with consistency and threat he’d not previously produced.
The old weaknesses occasionally showed through in races where tyre management was key, and there was the odd struggle when in battle – notably the first lap in Hungary - but overall this was a formidable season that saved Bottas’s Mercedes seat and showed he has the mental strength needed to keep chipping away at himself to extract the pace and consistency he needs to close on Hamilton.
At the end of last season, Valtteri Bottas looked like a busted flush. As he later admitted, he’d fallen out of love with Formula 1 and seemed on a trajectory that would cost him his Mercedes drive for 2020. But he bounced back brilliantly in 2019, winning the opening race in Australia and delivering a strong season against a team-mate who is rightly recognised as one of the greatest grand prix drivers.
“Out of Valtteri’s many good points, if you are going to pick one that makes him really impressive, his mental resilience is tremendous,” says Mercedes technical director James Allison. “Can you imagine what it's like to be Lewis's team-mate? That is a tough gig and Valtteri has not been cowed by it, has not allowed it to get him down, has not in any way ever dropped his willingness to be a constructive part of what we're doing. People have sometimes rather cruelly characterised him as just a convenient second fiddle, but he has just set about improving himself.
"He came from teams that didn't have our overall capability before and he's come into a team that did, had to absorb a lot of information and a lot of different approaches. And he's done all that while being Lewis's team-mate. You can show an arc of improvement, not by sort squinting at it and you can just about make it out from the noise - it is really clear. That speaks volumes for the strength of his character. And he's certainly a brilliant person for us because whatever the situation, you can absolutely guarantee Valtteri will not make it one iota more dramatic than it already is.
"If anything, his approach will take tension away and allow us to focus on what we're trying to do with a clear head because his personality is so helpful to make your racing team get better.”
Bottas’s season peaked with two victories in two weeks at Suzuka and Austin, which Allison selects as his strongest performances of the year.
“He won them by being the best man through the weekend and won them utterly on merit. There's not much to say about them beyond that. They are both real driver’s tracks, both tracks where Lewis is strong and Valtteri put the car the right place on Saturday and then drove it beautifully on Sunday.”
There are still areas of his game that Bottas is still working on. Qualifying was strong this year, but there are still times when he gives away a little on race days - occasions when the tyre life is critical.
“We are being picky now aren't we because he has run some pretty handsome long stints,” says Allison when this is put to him. “He has shown very, very good pace management through the race and he's beaten on a number of occasions this year, a guy who is six times world champion, who rightfully is acclaimed as being at the top of his game. That makes Valtteri a pretty powerful asset.”