There might not be a driver in Formula 1 who had a more mixed campaign in 2017 than Valtteri Bottas. The 28-year-old Finnish driver commands the spotlight, in part because of his own talents but also because he drives for the Mercedes team that has had such a firm hold on the sport for four or five years now (thanks to lead driver Lewis Hamilton). Thus, not unexpectedly, Bottas was considered one of the names to watch as we started off the 2017 season.
Last March at the Australian Grand Prix, pre-race analysis suggested that fans support Bottas if not backing Hamilton for the season’s inaugural contest. This was a strategy primarily aimed at bettors, but it made a statement early on that Bottas – not former champion Sebastian Vettel, fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen, or up-and-comer Max Verstappen – was the man to watch behind the dominant favorite. As it turned out, Bottas did reach the podium, though he finished in third (and it was Vettel who won the race).
Bottas would have only one more podium finish (third again) in the next five races, however, such that whatever confidence there was in him early in the season had more or less evaporated by the midpoint. He ultimately made up ground, finishing the season in third place in the driver standings, only 12 points behind Vettel. But the damage was done early: Bottas can look back at his 2017 campaign only as uneven, rather than wholly successful.
Mercedes certainly took notice that Bottas, if anything, may have underachieved. Rumors have been spreading about the team potentially searching for a replacement for its number two driver following the 2018 season. That’s far from a guarantee that such a process is underway, but it’s definitely not much of a vote of confidence in Bottas (who is signed to just one more year with Mercedes through this coming season).
As far as Bottas himself is concerned however, he seems to be taking his underwhelming 2017 campaign and the Mercedes rumors as motivation – which is about all he can do. Speaking at an event in Kuala Lumpur after the season came to an end, he stated plainly, “I need to raise my game.” Bottas specifically noted that he needs to be a more consistent finisher, and avoid the highs and lows that defined his driving in 2017.
Whether or not he can make good on this effort will be one of the more interesting storylines of F1 in 2018, and possibly one of the more consequential ones as well.