Life has not always been kind or any easy for the 29-year-old Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas- isn’t it? You’ve got to feel for the guy who, despite enduring a winless run in 2018, managed to set 7 fastest laps in 21 Grands Prix. Perhaps, there’s some sense after all as to why they say the Finnish drivers hold a certain enigma embodied by only a few others.
But the Valtteri Bottas one’s got to see, so far, in 2019, is a changed driver completely. Not for nothing is he being touted as a clear frontrunner this year, even as only a handful of races have been contested.
Valtteri Bottas has already won a race and that too, the season-opener at Melbourne, Australia. Since then, the Finn has managed a podium in each of the two races that followed- at Bahrain’s Sakhir and at China’s Shanghai, the latter being F1’s 1000th Grand Prix.
Even as the 2019 Chinese GP was clinched by Lewis Hamilton, Bottas salvaged a fighting second as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finally opened his podium- account by landing an important albeit highly-debated third.
With 18 more races to go, the Mercedes drivers have already established their supremacy at the driver rankings, so to speak. But in so doing, Valtteri Bottas, 122 races against his name, has got a thing or two to prove at Baku, the home of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Not once has the noted Finnish talent stepped on the top step of the podium here at Azerbaijan. But before we examine the laconic Finn’s results here, it’s worthwhile to note that thus far, Bottas has grabbed 4 wins and 33 podiums from 122 entries.
But what became of Bottas in the 2016 race at Baku?
For starters, the ’16 contest, branded as the 2016 European Grand Prix, a contest won by the then-world-champion Nico Rosberg, saw Valtteri Bottas managing a fighting sixth. This meant that the then-Williams driver would improve on his P8, a position he fought well for during qualifying.
Next up, the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a time in Grand Prix racing where there still was no ‘Halo’ unfurled a spectacular battle much to the admiration of fans and pundits alike.
In what was called perhaps the most dramatic contest ever fought at Baku since the race’s inception (in 2016) would see Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo claim a sensational win as Hamilton and Vettel of Mercedes and Ferrari, respectively, came to blows during the mid-stage.
Where did this leave Valtteri Bottas then, who’d begin second on the grid, driving a solid 1:41:027 (just behind pole-sitter Hamilton) during qualifying?
Landing himself a fighting second, Bottas, who finished nearly 4 seconds behind an in-form Ricciardo would wave to the crowds at the completion of contest punctuated by several retirements, 6 to be precise, 1 accident featuring Nico Hulkenberg, and an emphatic victory for Daniel Ricciardo.
But all that told, the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix for all intents and purposes would leave the currently smiling Finn absolutely gutted.
How can anyone forget the sight of the dejected Finnish driver sitting by himself at the completion of the contest having retired when he was the one racing toward what looked a certain victory?
Surely, it wasn’t the best feeling for Mercedes, that saw Hamilton benefitting from the retirement that took Bottas out of the picture and even paved way for Kimi Raikkonen, to land on the podium.
During those closing stages of the contest, Bottas, who began from third, would run over some debris only to see his track position slip out of his grasp.
As Haas’ Romain Grosjean somehow found a way to crash under the safety car on lap 43, a time where Bottas led from Vettel who led from Hamilton, few anticipated that the order of the race would turn on its head minutes later.
So what exactly happened?
Upon the restart of the race, Bottas, who held track position would run over some debris that wasn’t quite cleared only to obtain a rear puncture in his Mercedes. Vettel, meanwhile, hard on the brakes saw Hamilton, then third, and Raikkonen, then fourth, move ahead.
The order of the race changed within seconds of the Finn retiring as the Briton would now control the proceedings with ‘The Iceman’ running in second, pursued unsuccessfully by Perez, who held on to a third.
That told as Bottas is all set to contest for the fourth installment of the contest at Baku, the race first appearing on the calendar in 2016, one wonders whether the Finn can hold on to a win?
It is worthwhile to note that despite suffering from the ignominy of the tyre puncture last year, Bottas left an impression on the race in the form of his fastest lap (1:45:149) on Lap 37.
So Valtteri, can you put the back luck behind and put your mugshot on the winner’s tally here?