French GP: Jolyon Palmer column – Unfortunate Bottas ought to have been a title contender
Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault through the 2017 season, has joined the BBC staff to supply perception and evaluation from the viewpoint of the opponents.
The System 1 title combat is distilling into one other showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, nevertheless it might have been so completely different.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas could possibly be proper in there with them had it not been for unhealthy luck – Sunday’s French Grand Prix was simply the newest instance.
The Finn certified on the entrance row at Paul Ricard, alongside Hamilton, however was taken out by Vettel on the first nook.
Vettel was on the within, making an attempt to again out of a transfer he had realised was not going to work. Bottas was taking advantage of the clear monitor across the outdoors and swept across the Ferrari man however was spun spherical, picked up some harm and will solely get well to seventh place, whereas Vettel completed fifth.
For my part, Vettel was at fault for the incident, and the stewards agreed, which is why they penalised him. However on the primary lap, when issues are tight, this stuff occur.
Both approach, it was a pricey misjudgement for Vettel and extra unhealthy luck for Bottas, because the harmless get together.
It is laborious to think about Bottas would have overwhelmed the imperious Hamilton to the win, particularly because the world champion managed proceedings into the primary nook. However a second place was in all probability misplaced for Bottas on this event, and with it 12 extra factors.
In some ways, it summed up Bottas’ yr up to now.
Answering all of the doubters
Pre-season, there have been quite a lot of query marks about Bottas.
The world – and Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff – have been ready to see how Bottas would carry out in his second season with the world champion staff.
Bottas began 2017, his first season with Mercedes, properly, however after being given one other yr’s contract, he had a run of shaky type via the summer season and early autumn.
This yr, the query was whether or not Bottas might justify retaining his place at one of the best staff in F1, particularly with Purple Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo available on the market as properly.
The questions solely deepened after a heavy accident in qualifying for the season-opening race in Australia, and a lacklustre restoration drive.
However since Melbourne, Bottas has been excellent, certainly some of the unfortunate drivers within the area. If issues had gone his approach – and even simply not in opposition to him – then he could possibly be proper on the sharp finish of this championship alongside his team-mate.
On paper, Bottas’ outcomes do not look nice. No wins and no poles do not make for nice studying, and I can hear the questions being requested about his credentials alongside Hamilton, who after France now has three of every. However Bottas has been an image of consistency.
Since Melbourne, he has certified second or third for each race, aside from Monaco the place he and Mercedes have been lacking some tempo. And he has out-qualified Hamilton in three out of the seven subsequent races.
There is no denying Hamilton nonetheless has the sting between them. And when the automotive is able to taking pole, then it has been Hamilton who has delivered in Barcelona and Paul Ricard, edging his team-mate to second place.
However when the Ferraris have had the sting in different races, it has often been Bottas who has certified forward, even when as soon as once more there’s been little to decide on between them.
That is spectacular as a result of Hamilton might be the quickest driver on the market. He’s unbelievably fast, particularly over one lap, which is why he holds the document for many pole positions in F1 historical past.
However it’s not simply in qualifying that Bottas has impressed. His races have been constant as properly, however that is the place his unhealthy luck has held him again.
After his Melbourne mishap, Bottas wanted to reply instantly, and he did precisely that. In truth, he might have taken three wins in a row.
The primary in Bahrain wasn’t right down to unhealthy luck. He simply missed out on making an attempt an overtaking transfer on Vettel’s main Ferrari on the final lap – and a few felt he confirmed an excessive amount of warning there. However the subsequent two in Shanghai and Baku definitely have been right down to misfortune.
In Shanghai, Bottas led the race after the pit-stop part – a assured win by 2018 F1 requirements in a race with out drama. However there was drama. A security automotive was referred to as, which meant Purple Bull pitted, modified technique and Ricciardo got here from nowhere to beat Bottas to the win.
Subsequent outing in Baku, Bottas was much more unfortunate. Once more main after a late-race security automotive, he had every little thing underneath management with three laps to go however then picked up a puncture from particles on the start-finish straight. A victory misplaced, and 25 factors with it.
Respectable drives have since adopted in Barcelona and Montreal to take his tally of second locations as much as 4 for the season.
Bottas now sits fourth within the standings, a full 53 factors behind Hamilton, and behind Vettel and Ricciardo as properly. Nevertheless, Bottas’ unhealthy luck could possibly be argued to have value him 51 factors in comparison with Hamilton.
That is the seven factors distinction between first and second in China, the 25 he misplaced in Baku and the additional seven Hamilton acquired for being promoted from second to first, and 12 for the distinction between second and seventh in France.
OK, you possibly can argue that is maybe being just a little optimistic. And others have dropped factors via unhealthy luck as properly – Vettel in Shanghai after being hit by Verstappen, and Hamilton in Melbourne, shedding the win due to the protection automotive. However, on the sharp finish, Bottas is clearly the driving force that has been affected probably the most by unhealthy luck.
There’s a vibrant aspect, although. With contract negotiations starting over the summer season months, Bottas has certainly accomplished sufficient to be retained by Mercedes for the longer term.
Even when his final killer intuition, skill to take poles and wins can nonetheless be questioned, Bottas is on the very least the right accomplice to Hamilton. Forward when Hamilton is not at his greatest, constant and prepared to play the staff sport.
Raikkonen’s future unsure
At Ferrari, Bottas’ fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen isn’t making as convincing a case to be given a brand new contract.
The query marks proceed to develop round Raikkonen’s future, together with his potential alternative Charles Leclerc doing wonders within the Sauber.
Raikkonen is on a woeful qualifying run since beating Vettel to the entrance row in Melbourne.
Just about each time he is on monitor on the finish of the highest 10 shoot-out, the crunch time when the grid is generally determined, Raikkonen is making errors. He has the tempo however is consistently unable to ship underneath strain.
Not solely that, however having didn’t make up a spot on the primary lap since 2016, he is not recovering successfully within the race both.
His podium in Paul Ricard marked a stable drive, however actually it was the least he might do, in a race which noticed two of the entrance six collide and drop to the again and Ricciardo endure a problem within the closing phases.
When the title combat is as shut as it’s this yr, the second drivers might have a defining function. In the meanwhile, Raikkonen is unable to get close to Vettel to assist him out, usually being caught behind the Purple Bulls, whereas Bottas is frequently qualifying on the entrance and difficult Hamilton all the way in which.
It offers Mercedes the higher hand within the combat with Ferrari.
If Bottas hadn’t been on the entrance row in Sunday’s race, Vettel would have taken the lead into Flip One, as he had a significantly better begin than Hamilton. However due to Bottas’ presence on his outdoors, Vettel had nowhere to go and finally needed to elevate off on the run to Flip One.
Not solely can having a second driver on the entrance present a defend for the ‘primary’, however it may additionally present technique choices that Ferrari generally haven’t got as they’re usually combating with just one automotive for wins or podium locations.
Melbourne was the right instance of how having two automobiles on the entrance might help the staff out. Ferrari snookered Hamilton, by pitting Raikkonen early and Vettel late.
Mercedes responded to Raikkonen, the sooner and best-placed Ferrari on the time, however Vettel ended up successful due to a miscalculation by Mercedes underneath the digital security automotive that enabled Vettel to pit and return to the monitor within the lead.
Mercedes did precisely the identical to Ferrari in Baku. Pitting one driver – Hamilton – and sending the opposite lengthy into the race to make the most of a security automotive or not less than have a recent set of tyres to assault on the finish. That is what gave Bottas the lead, after Ferrari felt they wanted to reply with Vettel to Hamilton’s early cease.
Raikkonen wasn’t shut sufficient to assist out, and that is been the case all too usually this yr.
If he is not cautious, he’ll discover himself swept apart for the brand new technology in Leclerc. Certainly, the choice could have already been made.