For a driver like Valtteri Bottas, it must be tough to see your Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton grace the top step of the podium nearly every race week.
The Briton, who is chasing a record-equalling seventh world title, is also aiming to win and match Michael Schumacher’s 91 Grand Prix triumphs.
Hamilton has repeatedly held the edge over the field in recent years, extracting the full potential of a dominant Mercedes car.
So commanding the Silver Arrow machine has been since 2014 that anybody driving as Hamilton’s team-mate should be finishing second in the championship with ease.
But it hasn’t often gone the way for Bottas. In his 72 races at Mercedes, he has only managed nine victories, placing third, fifth and second respectively in the championship since joining in 2017.
Driving the most formidable car of the decade, many believe the Finn has underperformed and lacked conviction, given Hamilton has clinched three world titles and 37 race wins in that same three-year period.
Of course, Hamilton and Bottas are two different drivers, have different skills, levels of maturity and race craft to return success behind the wheel of W11.
However, in the superior title-winning car, the number two driver – in Bottas’s case – should be posing more of a threat to Hamilton at the front of the grid.
With this, the question bodes as to whether the 31-year-old is ever going to step out of the shadow against the six-time world champion?
There was a point in the first part of 2019 and 2020 seasons when it looked like Bottas might finally mount a serious title challenge.
His wins in Baku, Suzuka and Austin were top quality, however, he couldn’t sustain that level of performance across the entire season.
Germany was undoubtedly the worst of his errors, clipping the kerb in wet conditions while contending for a podium. He crashed out and the points he lost that weekend put paid to any realistic title aspirations.
In 2020, the Nastola native has won in Austria and Russia but for all his pace shown in practice sessions, he tends to lose out in the weekend’s decisive moments.
After his latest win in Sochi, it’s difficult to overly praise Bottas. He did nothing wrong and drove a measured race, deserved of his second win of the season.
However, it’s not the same when Hamilton, who started on pole, is handed two five-second time penalties for a practice start violation before the race, and Bottas goes on to finish a comfortable seven seconds ahead of an inferior Red Bull.
In addition, when it’s his first win in nine races and we are over halfway through the season, it’s a bit late to act like he’s about to put the pressure on Hamilton again.
No championship is ever won off a handful of impressive results, and if he is to maintain the charge then he needs to show consistency right through until the season’s end.
He hasn’t silenced his critics by any means, but his victory in Sochi is a start, reducing Hamilton’s lead to 44 points in the championship with sevens races to go.
The argument with Bottas is he lacks fight. He did show some grit when challenging Hamilton around the outside of Turn 2 in Sochi, but we need to see more of this, rather than once every six races.
Bottas does well to nick the odd win, score podiums, abide by team orders and stay out of the firing line, yet his threat across the year is inconsistent and lacking magic.
Mistakes and a lack of ruthlessness has seen Bottas cement his reputation as an unofficial number two driver, something he would not like to openly admit.
When Hamilton is a serial world champion and at the peak of his powers, there is never going to be equal treatment between both drivers. Bottas is a very fast driver, but Hamilton is quicker and more consistent.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insists Hamilton-Bottas is the strongest driver pairing in F1, and the latter’s presence is an important step in the future strength of the team.
Glowing comments in the media won’t win you world titles, and Bottas would prefer to be lifting a championship, rather than hearing Wolff’s continuous praise.
The upcoming race in Nurburgring on Sunday is important for Bottas. A first back-to-back career win is a must if he is to kick start any form of momentum.
He isn’t out of the title battle yet and with 182 points still to play for, needs to generate serious momentum and pressurise his faster teammate.
From here, he needs to extract the maximum potential of the car right through until Abu Dhabi and hope some luck falls his way in the meantime.
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