Whisper it quietly, but Valtteri Bottas is increasingly looking like a Formula 1 title contender after keeping his cool to win the Austrian Grand Prix from pole position in what his team chief described as a perfect day for the Mercedes driver.
Wolff said after the race, “That was a perfect day for Valtteri. He made a sensational start – although we had a few nervous moments when we heard it was under investigation.”
“After that he showed great pace in the first stint, then was able to manage a blistered tyre to the finish in the perfect way on his second stint. It was the perfect result for him,” added the Mercedes team chief.
The unassuming Finn will never be a man to beat his chest and bellow his challenge from the rooftops but, in a typically understated way, he left no doubt that his hat was with the others in the ring.
In fact, Bottas maintained it had always been there, “Since the day I signed with Mercedes, what else can you put as a target? It´s always been the target but I don´t want to shout about it too much.”
With his second win in nine races, since joining the champions from Williams in January as replacement for retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, Bottas closed the gap to team mate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s leader Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton, the triple world champion who started the season as established favourite and is second overall, is now closer to Bottas – the gap is only 15 points – than he is to Vettel (20).
“I don´t want to think about it too much because we´re not even halfway and it doesn´t help anything to start thinking about it,” Bottas said of the championship.
“By making a thing about winning the title, it doesn´t change anything. You need to go race by race, session by session, lap by lap. But I know as a fact…with the points, I´m still in the fight.”
Hamilton, who has won three races this year and suffered setbacks with a loose headrest robbing him of victory in Azerbaijan and a gearbox problem dropping him five places on Sunday’s grid, could only agree.
“There was never a point when he wasn´t in the fight,” he told reporters. I think it was only you guys that had maybe potentially suggested he wasn´t in the battle. I always assumed he was and that (the win) just shows he still is,” affirmed Hamilton.
Bottas was so quick off the line at the start that both Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo were immediately on the radio to their teams to raise the possibility he had jumped the lights.
A stewards’ investigation revealed that it was legal, with an exceptional reaction time of 0.2 of a second recorded by the car’s transponder.
Bottas said he never had any doubts, “I’m developing so much at every race and getting better all the time.”
Asked in which area he felt he was making particular progress, the Finn smiled: “From today, it seems like race starts.”
Bottas is on a one year contract with Mercedes, which runs out at the end of the season. His second win of the year, his first as a Silver Arrows driver, is sure to count in his favour when he sits with his bosses to thrash out a new deal.
Big Question: Are Mercedes being silly not signing Valtteri to a long term deal?