WORDS BY ROB HANSFORD | IMAGES BY ALFA ROMEO
When Valtteri Bottas made the move to Alfa Romeo he accepted the fact that he wouldn’t be fighting at the sharp end of the Formula 1 grid any longer.
He was fully aware that his days of fighting for race wins and podiums were behind him, and in all reality, everyone - including himself - expected that he’d be fighting in the lower half of the field. And yet, that’s not turned out to be the case at all.
Only on one occasion so far this year has Bottas finished outside of the points. That was the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and the Finn suffered with a cooling system issue. But since then he’s gone on a run of four straight points finishes, adding another eight points to his haul last weekend, when he crossed the line in Spain in sixth position.
And as a clear sign of how his season is going right now, Bottas was actually unlucky to finish sixth. Had Alfa Romeo given him a better strategy, it’s entirely plausible that he could have ended the race fourth, such was the pace of his car.
“We got some good points today and we take plenty of positives home,” said Bottas.
“Our pace throughout the race was really strong and it was nice to be in battles with the big teams ahead – it shows how much progress we are doing and how the upgrades we brought here seem to work well.
“In the end, we chose to be aggressive and take a risk with the strategy, going for a two-stopper when everyone else went for three.
“It didn’t pay off, as the tyre life of the medium compound was a bit shorter than we anticipated and we struggled at the end, but we still brought home a good result.”
After turning away from Mercedes, that’s quite the position for Bottas to be in. Nobody expected Alfa Romeo to produce a car that was suddenly capable of battling right at the sharp end, but yet, that’s where it is.
It’s unrealistic to think Alfa and Bottas could regularly fight for the fringes of the top three throughout the whole season. Alfa doesn’t have the same budget levels compared to the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.
But with Bottas’ experience, there’s no doubt that they can fight for points every race.
Many thought Bottas’ career was over and done with and that his career post Mercedes might begin to emulate that of his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen.
But right now, the signs are positive. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all, and the lack of pressure upon Bottas’ shoulders is allowing him to be a better driver.
Bottas might not be fighting for wins anymore, but does it matter? He’s thriving, clearly enjoying the working environment he’s in, and he’s now producing results that make him look outstanding once again.
When you’re in the best car in the field, it’s easy for people to forget just how good you are, especially when you are regularly beaten by your team-mate.
However, at this moment, Bottas is demonstrating that he hasn’t lost an ounce of his talent and speed. He’s up there, still going wheel-to-wheel with his former team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
And while Bottas eventually lost out to Hamilton in Spain, it wasn’t a lack of determination and skill that caused the loss in position, it was the fact he was on an unfavourable strategy.
There’s clearly work for Alfa to do in that regard, however, let’s not forget it’s been a few years since the team was at the sharp end.
But if they can get on top of those weaknesses fast, then there’s no reason why they can’t help Bottas fight in the fringes of the top three more often, and help him completely rebuild his reputation as one of Formula 1’s fastest drivers.
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