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.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”