Canada has proven to be the brightest moment for rookie Valtteri Bottas in a miserable year for Williams, who are on target for their worst F1 season for 30 years, with the single point from Pastor Maldonado’s 10th-place finish in Hungary in July all they have for their efforts.
As first years go, Valtteri Bottas is moving right along
On paper, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the qualifying session for the Canadian Grand Prix at the damp Montreal track in June.
Sebastian Vettel had taken pole position for Red Bull Racing. No surprise there, really. The German has proven his prowess over a single lap in his Red Bull car over the past four seasons, which have yielded four drivers’ championships.
It was the man who qualified third whose name stood out: Valtteri Bottas.
The Williams driver, in his first season in Formula One and only his seventh race weekend, was outpaced only by Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-GP car around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, in what should be perceived as the qualifying performance of the season.
To put Bottas’s effort into context, his next-best starting position this season was 13th in Japan, last month. The race in Canada marked the only time in 2013 that he or teammate Pastor Maldonado got the struggling Williams team into the top-10 qualifying shoot-out.
Given that Bottas, the GP3 champion in 2011, has yet to score a point in his F1 career and has struggled, as has Maldonado, to fight with the midfield runners this year in an aerodynamically awkward car, how important was that Saturday in Montreal?
“It was a good opportunity for me to show what I can do and I think that was when the team saw what I am capable of when everything goes right, so that was very important for me,” the Finn said.
The performance in Canada was no fluke, as rain came down intermittently. Bottas, 24, was fourth in both the first and second sessions, before improving another spot in the final period.
“It was raining heavier in one corner compared to another and you had to adapt all the time, but we put everything together and the strategy was right,” he said.
Though he finished the race 14th, and a lap down, he had made a statement.
Canada has proven to be the brightest moment for Bottas in a miserable year for Williams, who are on target for their worst F1 season for 30 years, with the single point from Maldonado’s 10th-place finish in Hungary in July all they have for their efforts.
But despite it looking likely he will end the campaign pointless, given the car’s performance, Bottas is content with how his rookie year has gone.
“I think I have done pretty good,” he said. “I can be quite happy with my first season. I think especially the last few races, my performance has been pretty good.
“Obviously, I want to get better and I will. I think some races I have been unlucky, but for a first season I can be happy.
“But I will get better.”
Bottas served as a test driver for Williams the previous three seasons prior to his elevation to a race seat this year at the expense of Bruno Senna.
Being a F1 driver is more than just simply turning up to race 19 times a season. Bottas said he prepared for the challenge.
“There have been no real surprises because the team really gave me the opportunity to learn a lot,” he said. “Last year I travelled to every grand prix so I could really see how the season went.
“There are, of course, a lot of events and media work, appearances and stuff like that, which can be sometimes hard work, but it is what it is, and I am happy to do it as part of the job.”
Much of Bottas’s preparation for F1 was limited to simulator work and the occasional free practice session before a race as a third driver, something he did in Abu Dhabi last year.
He supports the prospect of increased testing time on a Friday at grand prix weekends starting next season, as well as more Pirelli tyre tests, which could make life in F1 easier for future drivers coming into the series.
“For me, there was not that mileage when I got to F1, and it was the maximum really a young driver can get,” he said.
“I would have preferred to drive much more, but it is what it is, so I think it would be good for young guys to get more testing and more opportunities to show what they can do.”
With only the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and races in the US and Brazil left on the calendar, the question becomes whether Bottas has done enough to remain in F1 for 2014. He is awaiting a decision from the team.
“All I can say is I would definitely love to stay with Williams, because I really think the future will be much better than what we have seen,” he said.
The Other Guys
Valtteri Bottas is not the only rookie in F1 this season. Here is a look at the four others and how they have done:
Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) 6 points
The Mexican, above, had a difficult first half of the season as Sauber struggled. He was out-qualified by teammate Nico Hulkenberg in the first 12 races of the season. He set the fastest lap of the race in Spain in May and scored his first points in F1 at Japan by finishing seventh.
Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) 0 points
After struggling against more-experienced teammate Charles Pic in the first half of the season, the Dutchman has found his pace and has been in the faster Caterham in recent races despite having no chance of scoring points. Highlight was qualifying 14th at Belgium in wet conditions.
Jules Bianchi (Marussia) 0 points
Made an immediate impact in Australia by running with midfield cars for a period. While his pace has fallen away due to Marussia’s lack of development, he has consistently out-run his teammate Max Chilton.
Max Chilton (Marussia) 0 points
The Briton has made few mistakes but has been unfortunate to be up against the highly talented Bianchi in the other car in his garage. A strong qualifying display in Japan, where he was 18th, demonstrated the speed is there. Further improvement should come – if he is on the grid next year.
Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE