Being a second driver in Formula 1 is a tough situation. Just ask guys like Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello, who can tell you that being a second driver to the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher, respectively, for the best team in F1 isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.S?
Sure, you race for the best team in F1, and sure, every so often you get to win a race. However, being a second driver means you’ll always play second fiddle to the team’s superstar. He gets the better cars, he gets to benefit from the team orders and he gets all the glory when he claims the championship.
So what does that mean for you?
Well, it means that you need to be content with the fact that you’ll pretty much always finish second and you probably won’t ever be a world champion. One second driver changed that trend in recent years, that guy being Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg was so competitive with his teammate Lewis Hamilton, that Mercedes put them on “equal” standing in the team. While it was obvious that Mercedes heavily favored Hamilton, after claiming the 2016 world title, Rosberg made a statement.
Rosberg’s sudden retirement left a question as to who would be Hamilton’s second driver in 2017. The question was answered when Mercedes found their perfect complement in Valtteri Bottas.
A driver who seemed content to live in Hamilton’s shadow and only win races every so often. But his status raises a question, will Valtteri Bottas ever become a world champion?
Despite driving the same car that Lewis Hamilton has piloted to over 70 race victories, Bottas has only 9. Not really great stats for a guy driving the best car on the grid, now is it? It seems now in 2020, that the finishing-second mentality is starting to wear on Bottas.
This season Bottas has been much better in qualifying, winning the pole four times at Austria, Britain, Imola and Germany. However, Bottas only has one win to show for his four poles. Being beaten out by Lewis Hamilton in all three of those races, despite it easily looking like Bottas had these wins for the taking.
While some people believe Hamilton is simply better, and others believe that Bottas is being deliberately sabotaged by Mercedes, what is clear is that Bottas’ results are nowhere close to being indicative of a future world champion.
In 2018, Bottas went winless in the Mercedes car finishing fifth in the driver’s standings, an absolute misery as teammate Hamilton went on to dominate the 2018 season. Even though back in that season both Red Bull and Ferrari were more even with the Mercedes cars, it was still shocking to see how bad Bottas performed.
Bottas isn’t a driver that regularly competes with Hamilton like Rosberg once did. Bottas is usually over 5+ seconds off of Hamilton’s pace, to the ire of many it’s frustrating to see the only person who can beat Hamilton running so far off his pace.
Bottas also seems to be the victim of the most incidents and mechanical failures. Since joining the team, Bottas has recorded five DNFs as opposed to Hamilton’s one. Bottas constantly has engine failures and mechanical issues, while Hamilton’s cars seem to be made of diamonds and never fail. The last time Hamilton failed to finish due to a mechanical issue was in Austria of 2018, where retired from a fuel pressure issue.
It’s clear Mercedes prioritizes Hamilton over Bottas, and following his string of heartbreakers in 2020 Bottas expressed his frustrations with Mercedes. Constantly being on the second step of the podium is never good for a driver, because you always want to strive for the top step. While I’m sure Mercedes does pay Bottas well to keep running in second, I can’t imagine he will take much more of this. Take the aforementioned Mark Webber, a driver who famously exclaimed “not bad for a number 2 driver” after taking a rare win at the 2010 British Grand Prix. The comments came due to Webber’s constant frustration with running second to Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull’s golden boy, and current four-time world champion.
Bottas is starting to become the same way, while not completely angry, his spirits seem to be slowly dwindling with the declining results.
In my professional opinion, the only way Bottas will win the world title is if Hamilton retires or if Mercedes lets him.
If Bottas becomes the first driver after Hamilton leaves, then it’s more than likely Bottas will get all of Hamilton better equipment. Will this lead to another title? Who knows. What is certain, is that whoever replaces Bottas as the second driver, will have to be content with living in Bottas’ shadow until they can’t take in anymore and jump ship. Every driver dreams of being a world champion, but that will never happen when driving for a team that shows such obvious favoritism.
Maybe Bottas will jump ship over another team one day like Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel ended up doing, but until then Bottas will probably still be with Mercedes because it means he will at least always finish second.