Never mind getting himself onto the top step, the faultless drive by Valtteri Bottas in Austria may have actually moved him between a rock and a hard place going into this weekend’s British Grand Prix.
By taking his second win, Bottas has put himself properly back in contention for the championship – numerically speaking. It has also done no harm to his claim for another season with Mercedes-Benz. But if he wants to keep the team happy, what’s Valtteri going to do if Lewis Hamilton comes calling at Silverstone and asks to have his team-mate step aside in the interests of the championship – Lewis’s championship.
Hamilton is, after all, 15 points clear of Bottas and in need of all the help he can get to close down Sebastian Vettel’s expanding points lead as we head into the second half of the season. You can bet Lewis will pull every permissible trick in the book at his home race and make up for the disappointment that was etched so clearly on his face after finishing fourth on Sunday.
It was one those weekends when Hamilton seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Whereas Vettel managed to shrug off the fall-out from Baku, you would have been forgiven for thinking Lewis was the one being continually questioned about his flaky temperament.
The loss of a certain win thanks to the headrest in Baku, plus Sebastian actually finishing ahead, laid the foundation for Hamilton’s discontent over the gearbox penalty, a worrying brake issue (none of which was his fault) and the poor qualifying lap that put him eighth (after the penalty) and into a time-loss situation getting by a Force India and a Haas. Then throw in Daniel Ricciardo’s stout defence of third and more points for Vettel and you have Hamilton’s heart clearly displayed on his sleeve in the interview pen.
You can view that two ways: it’s good to see emotion and the raw demonstration of a rage to win; or, he should have looked at the positives and been glad Bottas won and stopped Vettel from gaining another seven points. That, surely, must be more important to Lewis than the fact that Valtteri has strengthened his claim to be heard in a team that allows its drivers to race?
Bottas did enough on track with pole position, a perfect start (regardless of how much daring guesswork was involved with his clutch release fingers) and a flawless defence with blistered tyres while under pressure. Hamilton, for his part, did well to avoid the sort of chaos that took out Max Verstappen and coped with the unwelcome complexities of his alternative tyre strategy. As Toto Wolff apparently said to Lewis: “You should consider this 12 points won rather than lost.”
In fact, Bottas has lost a fair bit through a bad weekend and the engine failure in Spain. Otherwise, he is just one win behind the championship leaders, the Finn being arguably more consistent with a qualifying average equal to Vettel and, significantly in a season as close as this, ahead of Hamilton.
All of this adds up within Mercedes, particularly when Ferrari proved on Sunday what we’ve always suspected as Kimi Räikkönen was used a strategic tool to assist his team-mate.
Bottas says he is taking it lap by lap, race by race; he’s not thinking of the championship. On the basis of his performance last Sunday, that will do perfectly well – provided others don’t attempt to do the championship thinking for him.
Tricky – and fascinating – times lie ahead.