Valtteri Bottas has one race left to avoid an embarrassing stat, as the first Mercedes driver to have a winless season in Formula 1’s hybrid era.
And while the Finn heads to Abu Dhabi as the event’s most recent winner, there’s no doubt 2018 has been a disappointing year…
… one in which he has been outclassed by teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Across 20 races, the Brit has dominated qualifying, 13-7, with 10 poles. And in the races 15-3, when they could be compared, with 10 wins, putting him 146 points ahead with one race to go.
And just like 2017, Bottas knows it’s qualifying where he has to deliver.
SOUNDBITE: (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
"Qualifying is the key, always, if you want to really fight for the win of the race. You can't give any places to your tough competitors. Especially you know, Lewis, my teammate, is probably the best qualifier ever in Formula One. So it is never easy to try and be ahead, so that's always a good target for me.”
Rotten luck has also played its part, a surefire win in Azerbaijan destroyed by a puncture two laps from the chequered flag.
…while in Russia, another chance for a Bottas victory went begging when Mercedes used team orders to get Hamilton past for the lead and win.
“Once we realised I'm not fighting for the title any more, then we've seen different situations, like Russia," Bottas said.
All this, with Bottas’ tenure at the team extending through to the end of 2019, but perhaps no longer with Mercedes’ protégé Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings for his Silver Arrows shot.
It’s a long way from Australia this year, when Bottas arrived at Melbourne’s Albert Park refreshed and ready for the challenge.
SOUNDBITE (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
“I do have big goals. I need to try to step up my game. I want to start the season well here in Melbourne. Last year I was third in the race, so for sure need to do better than that.”
But, a huge crash in Q3 during qualifying saw Bottas start down the order in 15th, rising only to eighth by the end of the race.
In the following 19 Grands Prix, he finished second seven times at Bahrain, China, Spain and Canada as well as Germany, Russia and Japan. He has been no lower than fifth in the last 11 races.
… while Hamilton has stormed to seven victories in the last 10 events for his fifth F1 world championship, his fourth in five years.
For Bottas to break Hamilton’s reign at the top of F1, he’s not only got to dig deeper but to channel Nico Rosberg, who rose up after Austin 2015, when his then-teammate muscled through for the lead at Turn 1…
Rosberg going on to win the next seven races, and the 2016 title.
SOUNDBITE (English) NICO ROSBERG,
2016 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"It was very tough because I put my whole life into trying to win on that racetrack and then when you suffer such a loss it's a tough moment and I found motivation that I didn't even know I had so I came out of that and I put everything in to it. That five per cent even more last year and that's why I'm sitting here as a World Champion. So it's really thanks to the losses."
But to challenge Hamilton, Bottas would have to create a war at Mercedes, destroying the calm he’s created since Rosberg retired.
It’s all in Bottas’ hands, as he heads into the final race of 2018 with the prospect of a winless season, despite being in one of the best cars on the grid.
It’s a make or break prospect as pressure heats up on the ice-cold Finn.