Bottas faces uncertain summer as Mercedes decides his future
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Valtteri Bottas faces an uncertain summer after two unconvincing races as he waits to find out his Mercedes future.
The Finn is fighting to keep his place at the F1 giant, with Mercedes set to decide whether to offer him a new deal during the upcoming midseason break. Now in his third season with the Silver Arrows, Bottas acknowledges the precarious situation is getting to him.
“When contract-wise you’re on the limit it never helps. Some people might think that some drivers perform better under pressure, when things are on the limit, but for me it doesn’t help,” Bottas said. “It will be nice to hear some news when the team decides what it wants to do.”
Last week Bottas crashed out of the German Grand Prix chasing a podium finish, and on Sunday he finished eighth at the Hungarian GP after starting from second on the grid. Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff is weighing whether to replace him with Frenchman Esteban Ocon in 2020.
Bottas failed to win a race last year but bounded into the new season with two wins in four races and even led the championship. He looked determined to prove he could be an F1 title contender and challenge his illustrious teammate Lewis Hamilton, the world champion.
Since then, however, the 29-year-old Bottas has not won in eight consecutive races. Although Bottas is level 4-4 with Hamilton in F1-leading pole positions this season, Hamilton has crushed him 8-2 in wins and leads his teammate by 62 points in the championship standings.
“It’s a big gap, much bigger than I would have liked to have. I don’t really want to think about it at the moment, that’s for sure,” Bottas said. “It’s a bit of a tricky situation, but that’s how it is.”
Bottas needs wins — fast — and that’s perhaps why he’s pushing too hard in races.
“I was hungry for the win. I wanted to win this race whether there were contract talks or not,” Bottas said. “There’ve been races that have been lost opportunities, sometimes because of us as a team (and) sometimes because of me. (In) the last three races (my consistency) has not been there.”
In Sunday’s race, he lost position to Hamilton, who won the race but appeared to deny Bottas enough space as they jostled into Turn 3.
Bottas was then forced to change his front wing after it was clipped by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. He appeared displeased with Hamilton’s driving as they fought to catch pole-sitter Max Verstappen at the start.
“We were side by side (on Turn 3). For sure he (Hamilton) didn’t leave any room for me so that compromised my exit,” Bottas said. “Racing can still be good even though you don’t push others off the track … Obviously Turn 3 today was on the limit.”
Bottas also took a swipe at Leclerc, who could have been penalized for rash driving.
“Charles swept across and (hit) my front wing. That was it, really, compromised my race,” Bottas said. “I love hard racing, that’s for sure, but it was completely unnecessary. That’s not how it should be.”
Verstappen finished second behind Hamilton and is now only seven points behind Bottas in third place overall with nine races left.
Bottas has been on one-year rolling contracts since joining Mercedes in 2017 as a sudden replacement for retired world champion Nico Rosberg. Last year Mercedes gave him the nod for 2019 only in July, and now it’s even later.
He knows he needs to prepare himself well should Mercedes choose the 22-year-old Ocon ahead of him.
“When you’re in that situation, and you want to race in F1, you need Plan B and possibly Plan C,” Bottas said. “It’s always good to have different plans.”