Does Mercedes-AMG need to replace Valtteri Bottas?
The 2021 Formula 1 season has been off to a great start — Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been at each other, giving us fans a reason to be glued to the screen even on tracks as boring as Circuit de Catalunya. But one thing that hasn’t been too interesting is Valtteri Bottas’ performances. Yes, he’s right up there in qualifying, but come Sunday, the Fin just seems to get a bit lost in the soup. Is it time for a change?
Well, I for one would love to see someone younger and more eager to fight for the win take the seat. George Russell was instantly on form in that one brilliant, but ultimately tragic, night in Bahrain last year. Mr. Saturday definitely has the pace on Sunday too and he has made it clear that his goal is to be in that Mercedes seat, so why not put him there? There are two major problems getting in the way of George (or anyone else for that matter) getting that seat though, things that us fans might miss out on from the sidelines. The first is Lewis Hamilton. There’s no doubt that the Mercedes W12 is an incredible race car and in a season where we felt that Mercedes may take a hit due to the regulation changes, and the omission of DAS, it has put on a more dominating performance than ever. That said, the man in the #44 car is a genius too. He’s on the ball every single race week, from practice all the way through to the race. Lewis makes such few mistakes that it is surprising when he does slip up. How does that relate to Bottas’ seat? Well, Mercedes simply wouldn’t want to recreate what happened with Lewis and Nico a few years ago. An even better example perhaps would be the tough situation at Ferrari ever since Charles Leclerc arrived alongside Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari made it very clear who the future of the team was, which often meant giving Charles the better strategy and a better chance to get more points. To bring George in to Mercedes would mean to shift the focus away from Lewis and onto the future of the Silver Arrows, and I don’t think Mercedes is ready to do that just yet.
The second and slightly bigger problem is Valtteri himself. Yes, his race pace is laughable at times — Max was a pit stop clear of him in an arguable slower Red Bull in Spain last weekend— and even on his best days, he rarely gets his elbows out and goes for that edge-of-the-seat move. You never look at Bottas’ driving in awe. Don’t get me wrong, he is incredibly talented, one has to be to make it to Formula 1, let alone in one of the greatest teams of all time. But all of the above isn’t a problem for him really, it is more of an advantage. You see, like I said, Mercedes doesn’t want to recreate that hostility in the garage again. They want to win championships and they want their star driver to win championships. So, I’m sure they’re perfectly happy with Bottas landing up on the podium, bringing home valuable points for the team as Lewis battles it out with Max for the driver’s championship. Sergio Perez hasn’t been able to fire up the Red Bull to threaten the Mercs yet, because of which Bottas is usually left in no-man's land every race.
So do Mercedes need to replace Bottas? For the sake of giving us better racing, to give some competition to one of the sport’s greatest of all time, yes. We need a hungrier, feistier racer in that second seat. But ‘we’ don’t run Mercedes and if they cared more about interesting races, they wouldn’t build an absolute beast of a race car every season. And since there is no word yet on when Lewis will leave the scene, Bottas is the perfect “wingman”, as Toto Wolff put it.