Mercedes man Valtteri Bottas proves he deserves to be fighting at the front
The Finn triumphed for the second time in six races on a weekend when Lewis Hamilton's problems meant the team looked to him to lead the charge.
If he has not already convinced Mercedes-GP that he should have renewed his contract for 2018, then Sunday’s performance in Austria should have ensured that the German marque are rushing to get a pen and paper under the nose of Valtteri Bottas as quick as possible.
On another day to forget for his teammate Lewis Hamilton, Bottas stepped up and not only won, but helped the man he shares a garage with in the drivers’ championship.
The Finn held his nerve in the final laps to hold off a late surge from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and win for the second time this season.
His endeavours ensured that Vettel gained only six, rather than 13 points, on Hamilton in the standings.
While he may not feel too good about himself when he gets up this morning, having finished fourth, Hamilton is 20 points behind Vettel rather than 27, and for that he owes Bottas.
Back in December when it was announced that Bottas would be the man to replace retiring world champion Nico Rosberg, there was an element of doubt.
Namely, the question of how Bottas, who had spent the previous four years competing for Williams, would handle having a race-winning car at his disposal for the first time in his Formula One career?
Being competitive in a midfield team and scoring the occasional podium is one thing, but being up against a triple world champion in the same car and expected to fight for wins and score points consistently, is something else altogether.
Spinning behind the safety car in damp conditions in China and then suffering the indignity of being told to move out of the way for Hamilton in Bahrain meant life at Mercedes did not get off to the most auspicious of starts.
The words all drivers fear hearing, "number" and "two", were been mentioned around, and it would have been easy to see him slip into a role where he was an afterthought as Mercedes concentrated all their efforts on Hamilton.
But since then he has stepped up and demonstrated that he does belong at the front, and that he is a worthy partner for Hamilton.
Two wins in the past six races, and two other podiums, have him sitting comfortably in third place in the standings, and this weekend is the third time this season he has beaten his more illustrious teammate fair and square.
He was not on the pace of Hamilton in either Canada or Azerbaijan last month, but then he does not have to be.
Mercedes did not bring him to beat Hamilton, at least not this year anyhow.
He was brought into maintain the stability of a team that had dominated F1 in recent years, help them win a fourth constructors’ title and triumph when the opportunity presents itself.
He has done that and on Sunday in Austria was another reminder of what a good job he is doing.
Yes, Hamilton had a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change that left him eighth on the grid, but Bottas had out-qualified him anyhow in taking the second pole of his career.
Bottas controlled the race superbly, and handled the problem of a blistered tyre well as Vettel closed in on him in the final laps.
It would have been easy to snatch a brake, run wide, or be too tentative, all things that would have opened the door for Vettel.
But Bottas stayed cool, judged things perfectly and crossed the line at the Red Bull Ring to prevail by 0.6 seconds, helping Mercedes extend their lead in the constructors’ championship to 33 points.
Hamilton is likely to be back to the fore next weekend at his home race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, an event he has won for the past three years, but you can be sure that Bottas can be relied upon to be up there challenging for the podium and ready to step up if needed.
Updated: July 9, 2017 07:29 PM