Roar From The Paddock Returns Following On From The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, With Feature Writer Specialist Aaron Gillard Discussing How Valtteri Bottas Is The Only Driver Who Can End The Lewis Hamilton Era In 2019
The 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix wasn’t much of a thriller, but more of a statement to the Formula 1 World Championship. The race didn’t live up to the expectations we saw from the last two years, but the race alone and the result, sent an important message. Mercedes are in a league of their own.
For the first time in F1, Mercedes have recorded four consecutive one-two finishes in the opening four races. Nobody has ever done this in the sport’s history.
All four of those races were fairly dominant by the Silver Arrows, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas taking the win with a sizable gap to their teammate. Bahrain was a different story, mainly because Ferrari were dominant and favourites to win the race, but lost out due to an engine issue and a spin from Sebastian Vettel.
Both Mercedes cars were able to cruise pass the powerless Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and take another one-two finish from the Italian team’s hands.
Regardless of all the talk that was mentioned in testing about Ferrari being the best and having the strongest package, Mercedes have taken it up a notch and no doubt are the driving force of F1 right now.
In Azerbaijan, we saw this in true force. Both drivers’ took a major advantage in qualifying when Leclerc crashed heavily in Q2, leaving only one Ferrari in the final session. Mercedes, using clever strategy by getting a more grippy track and using the tow, pulled out strong lap times and locked out the front row, despite Baku being a track favoured to Ferrari’s fast engine.
In the race, it was a simple breeze for the Brackley based team. The only concerned they were worried about, was ironically, themselves. The two cars were side-by-side on the opening lap, before Bottas stormed away into the distance.
Then, with a few laps to go, Hamilton got in DRS range and was looking like he was going to grab the win in the final moments of the race. But Bottas’ DRS from the Williams back marker George Russell put that case to bed and claimed his second win of the season.
Four races in and Valtteri Bottas leads the championship ahead of teammate Hamilton by just one point. Vettel takes third with 52 points, 35 points away from the Finn.
Whilst Ferrari do appose a threat to Mercedes, the Silver Arrows look like they’ll be leading the title race with both cars fighting for race wins in the early stages of the season, familiar to how it was at the beginning of the V6 Hybrid era in 2014.
Fans have already admitted that they’re tired of the Mercedes dominance and would like some change. But this year is set to see another year of the same, only this time it’ll be a return of the two Mercedes drivers battling one another, something we’ve seen in the past and has created some very intense, dramatic and nail-biting moments.
It may not please fans, but trust me, a teammate duel is something worth getting excited about. Remember Senna vs Prost? Mansell vs Piquet? Hamilton vs Alonso? Vettel vs Webber? Rosberg vs Hamilton? Those were feisty. We could be in for another one in 2019.
For three seasons between 2014 to 2016, Mercedes have ruled the sport and the title fight has fought between their two drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Their duel was one for the ages, but the tension between the two drivers proved to be too much with some clashes along the way. Who can forget Belgium 2014? How about USA 2015? Or the most famous one of them all, Spain 2016?
The inter-team rivalry proved to be a challenging one to manage between Hamilton and Rosberg. The two had a past history through the junior ranks, but remained friends throughout their journey into F1. But once the chance of adding a title came, friendship was gone.
Now with Rosberg retired and living a family life whilst running a platform of his own on YouTube, Hamilton remains in F1 and has won the last two titles against Vettel and Ferrari, whilst Bottas took a handful of wins but never really settled in as a true championship contender.
Those two years were at ease for Mercedes as the team cooled down from the aftermath of 2016. Both Hamilton and Bottas’ relationship grew and the two work well together. With one driver fighting for the title against another team and another driver, there was less inner-team tension and more of a ‘let’s get this together’ vibe. They sealed all titles in those two years.
In 2019, the fight within the Mercedes team could return. Ferrari all seem to be lost within their own bubble with their drivers, the strategies and failing to pull it all together in the opening four races. Both Hamilton and Bottas are capable of winning races and with the W10, the car seems to be at one with the two drivers in the races.
So far this year, it has been a coming of age for Bottas. The Finn is displaying some of his best driving in his career, after a massive low from 2018. Last year proved to be a year of bad luck, challenging and heartbreak for the twenty-nine year old.
Wins taken away from him, team orders, bad luck and a lack of pace left him with no wins to his name throughout last year. His lowest moment came in Baku when three laps away from the race win, his tyre went and the win was all gone.
Another low was in Russia when in the lead of the race, Bottas was instructed to give way to Hamilton for the sake of the championship. Hamilton would go on to win the race and the title three races later, whilst Bottas was left with a horrible taste from his Mercedes team.
His second half of the season form wasn’t great which led to some fans having mixed feelings for the Finn. Some feel bad for his season, others felt that he was just taking up a seat and someone should have a go. Throughout the off-season, some people even thought the likes of Esteban Ocon or George Russell should have a go in 2020.
Now in 2019, Bottas is a changed man. He’s grown a beard, ate some porridge and is has displayed a new attitude this year. He dominated in Australia and in Azerbaijan, placing a marker down to his competitors that he isn’t to be messed around this year. His team radio after the win at Albert Park, quoting “to whom it may concern, f*** you” was a strong statement to those who didn’t believe in him.
Which could be a warning shot to Hamilton in the race for the title this season. If Bottas keeps this form up and the Ferrari’s don’t prove to be a threat, who says Bottas isn’t in this title race? He has the same car as Hamilton and equally, has provided the same level of pace as the five-time world champion around some circuits in qualifying and in the race.
There’s no doubt that the Finn has saved his future at the team, with his contract set to expire this year unless Mercedes activates his 2020 option. There’s no reason to remove Bottas from the team and continue the dominance of the Silver Arrows.
To go up against, arguably one of the greatest drivers in F1 history is no easy task. But to it in the same team environment, the same car, the same management. If Bottas pulls it off, then surely his stock as an F1 driver in history takes a massive leap right?
Now, gradually overtime the two drivers will clash and who knows, the same incidents we saw with Hamilton and Rosberg might come back. For the time being though, the two have kept it clean, the team has managed the situation well between the drivers. But the clash is coming. The two will lock horns and will fight their own corners against one another. Then it’ll get personal, but not as badly as how Hamilton and Rosberg got.
The two don’t have a large history and if a turmoil does happen, it won’t be as bad as the past. This year maybe Bottas’ only chance at grabbing a title, so no doubt in the remaining races he will continue to strike.
The only concern lies is his second half of the season performance. He’s known to step his foot off the gas a bit in the last two seasons, and Hamilton often dominates in the second half.
In the last two seasons, Bottas has claimed only one win (Abu Dhabi 2017, the last race of the year) and eight podium finishes. Hamilton meanwhile, has claimed eleven wins and fifteen podium finishes alongside his two titles.
That’s a big fight for Bottas to go against during the second half of the season. But stranger things have happened in F1 before. If the Finn can match his teammate and take the fight to him, there’s no doubt that it’ll be a story that will be written in the history books.