Alas, the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Baku showed many just how out of his depth Valtteri Bottas is right now; the Mercedes teammate of Lewis Hamilton confessed to the media that he still has no idea why he could not pick up more pace resulting in a ‘nil poi’ result in Azerbaijan – With that, George Russell will join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes F1.
It was a minor miracle that Bottas made it to Q3 in qualifying at all, not to mention that, despite Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s retirements, he didn’t move up any further than 12th place.
2021 has been a terrible year for the Finn, having to drive a Mercedes F1 car that isn’t close to being as dominant as the previous machinery the German marque has fielded since 2014. With the exception of Monaco where Bottas looked set for a decent podium finish before the wheel nut issue in the pits ended his chances, the Mercedes driver has been so far off the pace he hasn’t got close to fulfilling his ‘wingman’ role to Hamilton.
“I can’t remember ever having a weekend like this,” said Bottas after Baku,
“Ok, there have been weekends where I’ve had bad sessions, but eventually I’ve had the pace. But this weekend it was constantly going badly and I still don’t understand why.”
These are the sorts of problems Mercedes AMG F1 team boss Toto Wolff certainly will be acutely aware of, and right now the other team across the paddock has found a clear tail gunner in Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez, the Mexican teammate to Championship leader Max Verstappen.
Perez, at last, finding his feet at Red Bull Racing and dutifully winning the Grand Prix in Baku after the retirement of his teammate. The result? Red Bull are the leaders in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
That was a hard weekend 🇦🇿
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) June 7, 2021
Toto Wolff speaks of the most difficult weeks of his tenure and finds the crisis of the Silver Arrows “simply unacceptable”. Language rival team boss of Red Bull, Christian Horner, took great delight in highlighting that he would never throw his team ‘under the bus’ publically like that (just French engine suppliers!).
Indeed the media rhetoric of the Austrian team boss of Mercedes has been one of a clear detachment from Bottas, something that perhaps is only compounding the situation with his lack of pace.
For example, the failure of the pit stop in Monaco on the face of it was just that, a failure of the pit crew to successfully change Bottas’s tyres. A wheel gun fusing the nut onto the axle of the front right, causing the retirement for Bottas.
But publicly, Wolff pointed out that “Valtteri stopped a little too early,”, i.e. he had pulled up slightly short of his marks, forcing the pit crew to use the wheel gun at an angle which contributed to the issue.
“This meant the mechanic had to apply the impact wrench at an angle. The awkward angle damaged the wheel nut and we couldn’t bring it down.” said Wolff that weekend.
Actually, the fact is that Bottas clearly stopped bang on the marks and it was just a simple mistake by the team. Something Wolff then accepted later on.
Couple this to the fact that Wolff said nothing of the error made by Hamilton during the race restart in Baku last weekend (a rather orchestrated affair by the FIA in my humble opinion), when Lewis accidentally knocked a switch in the car, contributing to the lockup under braking at turn 1, gifting the lead of the race back to Perez.
Certainly, it is not good for Bottas when the boss is trying to publically point fingers of blame to one driver and not the other.
George Russell to replace Valtteri Bottas
TJ13 understands that the decision has already been made: Valtteri Bottas won’t be a Mercedes driver beyond 2021, and it could even be sooner should the Finn fail to find his pace.
Rumours are rife in the paddock that George Russell has been confirmed as the driver to partner Lewis Hamilton next year. In fact, it is more or less an unkept secret behind the closed doors of Brackley and ‘those in the know’ that Russell will be confirmed, possibly at Silverstone during the Formula 1 British Grand Prix next month.
Should that be the case, the door is firmly opened for Mercedes to unceremoniously switch Bottas for Russell mid-season if the Finns form does not improve. And let’s face it, Bottas will very unlikely be unlocking his 4.0 iteration (or whatever version we’re now on) anytime soon after such an announcement.