Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas heads to the next round at Bahrain as Formula 1’s top man, the Finn storming to the win in Australia, with searing, untouchable pace, and no one in doubt it was “the race of his life”.
And for the first time in six years, dating back to Kimi Räikkönen’s win for Lotus at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, a Finnish driver leads the world championship standings…
It was Bottas’ fourth victory, and for the first time a truly dominant performance. His gap to teammate Lewis Hamilton, 20.8 seconds. A big difference from his 2017 wins under pressure in Russia, Austria and Abu Dhabi.
In essence, the perfect race, with the perfect car in its sweetest spot…
“I felt so good and everything was under control,” Bottas said. “The car was so good today. So truly enjoyable.”
And it was the ultimate way to cast off the negative energy from a difficult, winless 2018; his second season with the team.
… one the Finn went into expecting bigger and better results, with more time to feel comfortable and prepare before the first race.
SOUNDBITE: (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
“Well I want to win more races than last year. I want to, fight for the title. Now it's kind of, I feel it's my, my opportunity this year. I learned, like I said earlier, I learned so much with this team last season, so if I can learn from all the mistakes especially from all the difficult races. I believe I can perform overall a lot better this year.”
But Bottas finished 2018 in fifth place behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Better results stolen by bad luck and team orders; Hamilton taking 11 wins from 21 races, including eight of the last 11.
All of it masking the Finn’s true abilities behind the wheel…
Bottas is a multiple champion of the junior categories, including Formula Renault’s NEC and Eurocup, twice claiming the F3 Masters, before GP3 - in his maiden season, jumping directly to F1 in 2013.
Beyond the results, though, Bottas was a competitor to fear. Daniel Ricciardo still talks about their 2008 battle at Silverstone in Formula Renault 2.0, where the Australian won the second race on the last lap.
SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
RED BULL RACING 2014-2018:
“It wasn’t just I’d passed him on the last lap, it was the whole weekend - he ended up winning the championship. He was my main rival, and the whole weekend he was dominating, I mean I think in qualifying he was like seven tenths quicker than us, you know we just couldn’t get close and the first race he won by 10 seconds, 12 seconds - so everyone was expecting him to just lead from pole and go. I think I started fourth and I got a good start and I just basically stalked him the whole race.”
From Williams through to Mercedes, Bottas now has that chance to be feared again, but must retain momentum in Bahrain.
… with Hamilton sure to apply maximum pressure, not only on-track, but off-track, in re-asserting his regular dominant position.
Something that will require all of Bottas’ focus in remaining calm.
SOUNDBITE (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
“In this Formula 1 world, there can be a lot of pressure. And a lot of situations that you could potentially be affected by the pressure. So it’s really important to keep your inner cool in those situations, you know. There’s many things that you can either lose or win the race.”
So it’s now or never for Bottas, with a winning car in his hands he must rise up, and replicate Nico Rosberg’s change in mentality to beat Hamilton, in what could become a fight for the title.
And getting ahead on points for the team’s support in the early stages of the season, is the only way to do it.