After a difficult 2013 campaign that yielded just four points, Valtteri Bottas proved just why he was rated so highly by Williams this season, finishing the championship in fourth place and leading the team’s charge to third in the constructors’ standings.
Even at the first race in Australia, Bottas proved his star quality, passing most of the field twice en route to fifth place at the flag. His first podium finish came in Austria, having run the Mercedes drivers close during the race, and his run to P2 at Silverstone was sensational after qualifying 17th.
Mercedes was the dominant team in 2014, but it was Bottas who gave them something to worry about on a number of occasions. In Russia, he so nearly upset the odds to claim pole position. Nevertheless, with six podium finishes to his name, the Finn finishes the year fourth in the standings, beating experienced teammate Felipe Massa by 52 points.
Daniel Ricciardo may have been the biggest breakthrough star in 2014, but Bottas must be a close second. If Williams can make another step forwards over the winter, expect to see the Finn standing on the top step of the podium in 2015. We could be looking at a future world champion here.
Valtteri Bottas’ Australian Grand Prix this year revealed the makings of a potential World Champion, if some of his 2013 performances hadn’t been enough. After starting 15th and climbing through the field once, smacking the wall and losing some spots, then climbing back to fifth, it was apparent Bottas and Williams would be one to watch this year.
Indeed that was the case. There’d been a handful of races where Bottas impressed in the early stages but once the F1 circus got to Austria, that was when Williams really began to hit their stride. Bottas finished in the top five in eight of the final 12 races, with six podium finishes, completing a run to fourth in the final standings. Ending second at Silverstone after starting 14th has to be the statistical highlight in that run.
The thing that was most impressive to me this year was his understanding of how the expectations had changed. A year ago, the guy banked exactly one points finish – eighth at Austin – and by Abu Dhabi this year he was saying, “third is OK… for this year.” He knows the opportunity that Williams has, as one of F1’s greatest teams is on the verge of a return to its 1990s title-winning glory years, and he knows he’s the more likely of the two drivers to deliver that down the road. The torch has been passed from Kimi Raikkonen to Bottas as F1’s “Flying Finn,” and his first win can’t be far away.
Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home
With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.
Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.
“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”
Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.
“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.
“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”
Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.
Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.
Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.
Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.
Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.
Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”
Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.
Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.
Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.
250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.
“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”
Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.
“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”
In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium
Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.
Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end. | LCQ Results
Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results