OPINION: What Valtteri Bottas needs to do in 2021

Valtteri Bottas is set to begin his fifth season at the Mercedes Formula 1 team this year. Whether his time at the German outfit has been successful or not is a matter of debate. However, what isn’t in doubt is that Bottas’ future is unclear. What does the Flying Finn have to do to keep his job from 2022? We’ve given our take below!

How to respond to Lewis

Assuming that the 7-time world champion Lewis Hamilton reaches an agreement with Mercedes, Bottas will face a similar challenge to his four previous seasons at the Brackley outfit. While his teammate and main opponent is one of the best drivers to have ever raced in Formula 1, the setting has to be a little different as the teams (hopefully) arrive to Bahrain in late March.

Hamilton and Bottas have won four constructors’ championships in a row at Mercedes

Hamilton has equalled Michael Schumacher in the number of world championship, as well as become the driver with the most pole positions and race wins. One could question Lewis’ hunger for driving in F1, especially with the backdrop that he will most likely had to have taken a major cut in his salary demands.

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I have nothing against Hamilton’s professionalism, but we have observed in previous seasons that after he has won the championship, he dials his performance down just a bit. If Lewis’ hunger for an eight championship is not at the same level as for his seventh or sixth, perhaps Bottas may have an opening to throw his toughest challenge yet.

Bottas needs to raise his game too

Don’t get me wrong, it is not only about Hamilton dropping his performance, Bottas does equally need to increase his. Especially as he has stated he will not start playing dirty tactics within the team. In the last two seasons, Bottas has been of to an excellent start, only to see the point difference to Hamilton increase as the season went on.

Bottas won last year’s opening round in Austria, one of only two victories in 2020

Bottas will have to retain the killer form he normally starts a season with for much longer; and stay away from bad luck. No doubt his tyre giving up on the last laps of the British GP last year, dropping him from the points while Hamilton squeaked out a victory on three tires broke Bottas’ form.

Down to bad luck, yes, but also had he put himself in Lewis’ position, perhaps he might have been leading the championship after the race.

While it is admirable that Bottas does not want to take Mercedes infighting to the brink of a civil war similar to 2016 campaign, it is difficult to see how he can respond to Lewis in the endurance competition that is the championship.

How to retain a Mercedes seat for 2022?

If Bottas’ situation is such that he cannot throw a season-long challenge to Hamilton, what must he do then? With the new regulations hopefully coming in 2022, the Finn will certainly want to remain in the sport for some years past 2021. Regardless of the new regulations, Mercedes certainly remains as his number one choice for a seat in 2022.

A new challenger to Bottas’ seat has risen in the form of George Russell

Not rocking the boat at Mercedes is a wise call for Bottas if he is looking for another 1-year extension. With the relationship between Hamilton and the bosses at Mercedes allegedly suffering a blow due to the Brit’s salary demands.

Portraying himself as the solid, stable choice to fill one of the Black Arrows seems like a sensible solution. Although, so would winning the championship. Even in the unlikely scenario that George Russell steps up to fill the second seat at Mercedes, be it in 2021 or 2022, Bottas’ role as a solid team player is likely to guarantee him a seat for 2022.

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It would be quite shocking to see Hamilton and Russell form Mercedes’ driver duo in 2022, not because they would not deserve it, but because having two ‘fastest-of-their-generation’ drivers in one team is a situation ready to blow up.

Personally, I see it to be more likely that Hamilton will not renew with Mercedes for 2021, than for him and Russell becoming teammates in 2022. This sets Bottas well for some more years as the nice guy at Mercedes.

How to reignite his career somewhere else?

Although it is unlikely that Mercedes would want to shake things up for 2022, there is always a possibility that they decide they have let Russell drive at Williams for long enough, and that he deserves to be promoted to drive alongside Hamilton.

Could Bottas find himself back at Williams in the near future?

While I struggle to see Toto Wolff and his higher-ups making this move, let us entertain the thought for now. Where could Bottas reach out to, assuming he want to stay in F1? Well, with the new regulations, there is a chance that the marching order between the teams gets all mixed up, a good thing in the case of rejection from Mercedes.

What is not a good thing, however, is that most of the teams in the better half of the current grid are well set with their driver duos. Ferrari’s doors will not be open, unless Sainz flops massively this year. And even in that case, they would likely bring up Mick Schumacher from Haas.

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Aston Martin will also remain locked up and Red Bull will not look further than Alex Albon in the unlikely case they want to play another round of musical chairs for Verstappen’s teammate. McLaren will not be giving up on Ricciardo or Norris.

Renault, well, while 2021 could be an absolute dumpster fire for team moral with the combination of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, it is unlikely that they would kick either one out. And even is they did, there is a long line of Renault Academy drivers that would certainly have the priority over Bottas.

We’re running out of options…

The teams that are left are a sad read for Bottas. AlphaTauri, no chance. Haas, possible, if Mazepin got the boot (difficult to imagine what would lead to this apart from a life-long ban from the FIA), or if Schumacher replaced Sainz at Ferrari (also very unlikely to happen).

Alfa Romeo is difficult to see happening, even if they had two empty seats for 2022 they are likely to be filled by one or two Ferrari Driver Academy drivers, from the list of Callum Ilott, Robert Schwartzmann, Marcus Armstrong and I’d throw Arthur Leclerc as a hail Mary option too.

And so that leaves us with Williams, the most likely option in my opinion, but still a farfetched one. Firstly, as they have been at the back of the grid for many years now, it is hard to see them jumping to podium battles even with new regulations.

Would Bottas be motivated to take the risk? Maybe, but it’s not a certainty. Another question is whether Bottas would be welcomed back to his inaugural team with open arms. After all, the Williams family are not the owners anymore.

Perhaps the heads at Dorilton Capital would be open for Bottas’ return, alongside Nicholas Latifi or another driver with large financial backing. But this move if definitely less certain now than it would have been one year ago.

Overall, if Bottas left Mercedes, I believe he would leave Formula 1 entirely. He’s 31 years old, which isn’t old by any stretch, but he’s not the young hot prospect he was when he joined in 2017.

Perhaps, he could emulate his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen by spending a few years out of the sport before re-joining in 2023, or leave permanently to compete in the WRC.

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