If Valtteri Bottas wants to turn around his below-par season while his future at Mercedes is in doubt, the Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday might be a good starting point.
The Finnish driver has failed to land a top-two finish in the first seven races of 2021, his worst start to a Formula One season since joining Mercedes in 2017.
Bottas’ only previous campaign for his current team without a win at this stage of the championship was 2018, though he had racked up four second places by then.
The situation is worrying Mercedes, which is yet to make a choice for next season between Bottas and Williams driver George Russell for the second position next to Lewis Hamilton.
While Mercedes have opened talks with seven-time champion Hamilton to extend his contract, Bottas is being kept in the waiting seat.
“When I speak to Valtteri, it’s open, when I speak to George, it’s very much open, because I don’t want to have any hidden agendas,” team principal Toto Wolff said Friday.
“We need to evaluate the situation for the future,” Wolff added. “Valtteri had some really good weekends but he also had some off-weekends and we just need to minimize those. And then we will take a decision.”
The uncertainty for 2022 is “not a new situation for me,” Bottas said.
“Everyone knows how this sport work: if you make results, you will earn a (seat). If you don’t make results, if the team feels they need to change the driver, then they change the driver. It’s very simple in this sport.”
At least, Bottas has the backing of Hamilton, who called the Finn “a fantastic teammate. I don’t necessarily see that needs to change.”
A glimmer of hope for Bottas is the double-header in the Austrian Alps this and next weekend as the Red Bull Ring is a track that suits him.
“It’s a place that I really enjoy. I remember, seven years ago, I had my first ever F1 podium here with Williams and I’ve won it a couple of times and normally being always up there,” said Bottas, who won the Austrian GP in 2017 and again last year.
“So, I am confident coming into this weekend. I see no reason why, personally, I shouldn’t be strong. So that’s my mindset.”
During Friday’s first practice, Bottas showed glimpses of his best racing when he clocked the fastest times in the first two sections, before exceeding the track limits in the final corner which made his lap time invalid.
It was a mishap that reflects his season so far.
A combination of his own mistakes, poor strategy calls by the team, and sheer bad luck has left Bottas in fifth place in the drivers’ standings with 59 points, fewer than half of Hamilton’s tally of 119, and 72 points behind the leader, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Known for his laid-back style, Bottas briefly lost his temper at the French GP last week, shouting several expletives over the team radio as he disagreed with Mercedes’ one-stop strategy for that race.
A few days later, Bottas said his outburst was not a sign of tension between him and the team.
“There is no issues. Those kind of situations, they are normal,” he said. “We are not in a tea party, we are in an elite top sport. I want to do well and I want the team to do well, so there’s emotions.”
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