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F1 2017 driver review: Valtteri Bottas

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Valtteri Bottas

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 77
Races: 20
Wins: 3
Podiums (excluding wins): 10
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 305
Laps Led: 187
Championship Position: 3rd

When asked for a single word to sum up his season at the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi, Valtteri Bottas elected to use “disappointing”.

Rewind 12 months, and the Finn would never have used such an adjective to describe a year that saw him win three races, take four poles and finish the year third in the championship. However, given he was driving for Mercedes and stood a chance in the title fight at one stage, the late-season downturn left Bottas frustrated at a missed opportunity to capture a shock maiden title.

Bottas took to life at Mercedes well after being drafted in as a late replacement for Nico Rosberg following the German’s sudden retirement. He was on pole for just his third race, and won his fourth in Russia with a convincing display after being hounded by Sebastian Vettel throughout.

All three of Bottas’ wins – add Austria and Abu Dhabi to his maiden victory – were taken in similar fashion, soaking up race-long pressure from a car just behind to convert it into victory. They were icy cool displays befitting a Finnish racer.

And yet there were never any devastating, dominant displays as executed by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas was more consistent through the middle part of the year, with five straight podiums from Canada to Hungary putting him in the title fight, but no wins between Austria and the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi proved costly.

Curiously, Bottas’ form began to dip when Mercedes confirmed his new contract for 2018, with the ex-Williams racer admitting himself it was one of the toughest patches of his career. However, he was able to bounce back well late on, taking pole for the final two races and capping the year off with a win in Abu Dhabi.

Perhaps the season was disappointing for Bottas in so much as he didn’t beat his teammate or live up to the potential of the car. But given this was his first year in a top team, he performed decently enough for the most part.

The real question is whether it is enough in the long term for Mercedes. With the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon already being linked with a seat for 2019, Bottas will head into the new season knowing he must up his game and really take the fight to Hamilton if he wants certainty regarding his future.

Season High: Soaking up pressure from Vettel to take his first win in Russia.

Season Low: An anonymous run to P5 at the United States GP as Hamilton dominated.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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