Despite being let go by Mercedes in favour of George Russell, Valtteri Bottas heads into this week’s 2021 Russian Grand Prix, a race where he has historically shone, still willing to play his wingman role for the team.
This week’s race at Sochi is the second, since Bottas was announced to be leaving Mercedes to Alfa Romeo.
Despite the news, the Finn delivered one of his best performances in Monza qualifying on pole for the sprint race, then winning it, before he put his car on the podium in 3rd place after starting from the back of the grid due to power unit related penalties. He may be on for a good result here as well, as Sochi has been a happy hunting ground (he won here twice) for the 9-time Grand Prix winner.
With the decision taken to cut him loose, it would not be bizarre if the “sensational wingman”, as Toto Wolff once called him, suddenly decides to forfeit this role.
Speaking on the matter for F1.com, Bottas wants to remain a team player: “We have discussed many things internally, including different scenarios. Every race is different.
“There could be times that we need to play as a team, and I need to take one for the team,” he said. “And in this situation, how the situation is, yes I would do it because we’re here as a team and need to make sure we win both titles.
“Not only the constructors’ championship but also the drivers’. At moment, Lewis has greater chance for that – that’s the situation,” said Bottas. Hamilton is five points adrift of Max Verstappen in the title race.
It goes without saying that with the two title contenders, Verstappen and Bottas’ teammate Hamilton, getting themselves more broken carbon fiber than points recently, the situation in the championship is quite volatile to say the least, which Bottas echoed: “In Formula 1 you never know how the season progresses, there is still a fair amount of races. So never say never.
“The only thing I will keep doing is try my best, try to win races, try to be as consistent as I can to bring the points,” he explained.
But would he be allowed to go for it if the chance presents itself?
“And if I’m allowed? I don’t know really. You need to ask Toto. But for sure, it’s still a reasonable gap in the points.” was Bottas’ answer, which clearly shows whose team Mercedes really is. “At least earlier on in the season, I felt like I wasn’t really any more allowed for contention, but you never know, we go race by race.”
But eventually, the racer within him awakes: “For me personally coming here to this track, the only thinking in my mind is winning. It’s all that matters to me – and that’s my approach this weekend.”
Bottas has joined Mercedes in 2017 replacing 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg who remains the only driver to beat Hamilton in since the start of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014.
Bottas will be starting his 94th race in Mercedes colors this week in Russia. He is fourth in the drivers’ standings on 141 points, 85.5 short of championship leader Verstappen.
With 208 points still on the table, will he suddenly find himself in contention should Max and Lewis keep wiping each other out? That scenario is unrealistic, but in F1 anything can happen.