Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2021

2021 F1 driver rankings #10: Valtteri Bottas

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Around halfway through Valtteri Bottas’s fifth year as a Mercedes driver, the world learned it would be his last.

Valtteri Bottas

Beat team mate in qualifying5/22
Beat team mate in race3/17
Races finished18/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate173/1105
Qualifying margin+0.25s
Points226

Had his performances up to that point been at a significantly lower level compared to past seasons, and had the team therefore chosen to drop him? Or was there a different calculation at work? The signs pointed towards the latter.

Yes, there were a couple of conspicuous lows over the opening races for Bottas. Around a damp Imola, he was nowhere, and had already gone a lap down when his race ended in a collision with George Russell, the driver who was widely expected to replace him (correctly, as it turned out). At Baku he gradually slipped backwards and finished out of the points.

But the rest of the time he was in the mix, as in previous seasons. Close enough to Lewis Hamilton’s pace to occasionally out-qualify him, but very seldom ahead of him on race day. And unlucky enough to lose out on one of the few weekends when he was decisively ahead – Monaco, where his race was ended by a shambolic pit stop without which he would surely have finished second, six places ahead of his team mate.

A slow pit stop had taken him out of contention in Bahrain as well, though he took his first of 11 podium finishes. Hamilton was clearly the quicker of the two, establishing a trend.

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Bottas claimed a single win, in Turkey
From pole in Portugal Bottas was passed by Hamilton and Max Verstappen on his way to third again, which he repeated in Spain after spending the opening part of the race stuck behind Charles Leclerc.

In France Sergio Perez kept Bottas off the podium, but he was back on the podium at the next race, the Styrian Grand Prix, despite collecting a grid penalty for a bizarre spin in the pits. He improved to second at the next race (Hamilton picked up damage) and added another podium at Silverstone, losing ground at the starts and finishing behind Leclerc.

Then came Hungary, where he joined Hamilton on the front row but triggered hefty shunt at the start. Over the summer break that followed, Mercedes committed to replacing him with Russell, and the announcement was made soon after the season resumed.

Perhaps boosted by the newfound certainty over his future, but more likely thanks to the gains Mercedes with a W12 chassis which was not a friendly beast at the start of the season, Bottas delivered a better performance over the second part of the year, without the notable lows of the opening rounds.

He was back on the podium at Zandvoort and, much more impressively, at Monza, despite a penalty for a power unit change. Bottas claimed pole position for the second sprint qualifying race of the year and led Verstappen home, then was relegated to 20th for the grand prix. He recovered to third place after the title contenders took each other off, and might have had a crack at the race-leading McLaren pair had Perez not refused to relinquish the position he kept over Bottas by cutting the track.

Engine penalties were a theme of the coming races. He had another in Russia but rose to fifth place. At Istanbul, where it was finally his team mate’s turn to take a penalty, Bottas stuck it on pole position and drove away on a slippery track. Two more pole positions followed in the next three races but in Mexico he left the door open for Verstappen before being tipped into a spin by Daniel Ricciardo. His Brazil pole was the product of a fine sprint race performance to wrest victory from Verstappen, though in the grand prix he gave up the lead at the start and came third.

While Bottas proved a valuable ally to Hamilton for much of the season, over the final three races he faded out of the picture. He was unable to contain Verstappen in Qatar, then collected a puncture, and in Saudi Arabia he dropped out of contention for victory thanks to the early red flag. More engine problems kept him away from the sharp end in the finale where he, like his team mate, was disadvantaged by the contentious circumstances of the late restart.

Bottas’ final season as a Mercedes driver was arguably not his weakest, yet the team’s decision to look elsewhere was hard to fault. With the promising junior talent of Russell on its books, and Hamilton potentially committing to no more than two more years (the events of Yas Marina notwithstanding), now was clearly the right time to make a change.

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What’s your verdict on Valtteri Bottas’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

2021 F1 season review

[catlist id=48242 numberposts=5 excludeposts=this]Browse all 2021 F1 season review articles

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Keith Collantine
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45 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #10: Valtteri Bottas”

  1. A solid C- season

  2. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
    17th January 2022, 7:50

    I would rate him higher, maybe Perez too. I don’t think some of the drivers yet to be ranked would have coped as well with such strong teammates or the added pressure of being at the front end of the grid.

    1. Yeah, absolutely agree – Valtteri despite a few very lacklustre races and Checo deserved at least couple of steps higher in the ranking.

    2. I just wonder who you would have rated lower than this couple. Ocon? Gasly? Russell? Sainz?
      I cannot come up with a single name of a driver who in my opinion did worse in 2021.
      And extending to ‘what would they have done against Lewis/Max’ would make it even more subjective than any ranking already is.

    3. Also these driver-vs-driver stats can overdo it a little bit. In many races he wasn’t allowed to race Hamilton or would simply allow him to pass because of the title fight and team orders. I don’t think that changes much when it comes to final estimation, it’s just pointless to compare his results to Hamilton’s because some were orchestrated (and I don’t think Bottas can complain there, he had his chance before). But yes, he was fast in Williams and I’m not sure all those “Gaslys” in F1 are better than him. But one thing is certain – he’s terrible when it comes to overtaking or in fact any form of aggressive, offensive driving. When Bottas was stuck in traffic he’d usually stay there. But then, speaking of Gasly, I remember he was quite the same while driving the Red Bull car. He couldn’t even pass his semi-teammates in Torro Rosso, despite them probably having orders not to fight him too much.

  3. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    17th January 2022, 8:10

    “A slow pit stop had taken him out of contention in Bahrain as well, though he took his first of 11 podium finishes. Hamilton was clearly the quicker of the two, establishing a trend.

    The bold part regarding Bahrain is false. This was one of the few races this season Bottas was clearly matched to Hamilton pace wise.

    https://en.mclarenf-1.com/2021/gp/s8042/lap_times/482-801/

    Select Hamilton an Bottas here and you will see. Bottas was just as often setting quicker laps as Hamilton was. If it wasn’t for his slow stop, he will have been right up with them, admittedly still finishing 3rd.

    1. @thegianthogweed that is an excellent website, thank you for sharing.

  4. Looking purely at points and poles, BOT did not do all that bad considering he normally would not be allowed to win a race even if in a position to do so and would be used to HAM’s advantage. And we already knew he was not on the level of HAM and VER, not able to close the gap to them even on the circuits where the Merc held an advantage.

    What is a lot more damning is his inability to move up the field in what was either the fastest or the second fastest car in every race. Both HAM and VER in similar circumstances cut through the field like wheat, BOT languished in the midfield. PER showed a lot more ability in this regard.

    In all I think 10 is generous.

    1. @Moi

      What is a lot more damning is his inability to move up the field in what was either the fastest or the second fastest car in every race.

      Also, his inability to convert good qualifying performances to results. It makes his qualifying results worth a lot less when he tends to get overtaken quickly in the race by Lewis + Max.

  5. Bottas delivered a better performance over the second part of the year, without the notable lows of the opening rounds.

    There were still notable lows in 2nd half. Russia (until the fortuitous rain arrived), Austin (where he only managed 6th, starting 9th), Abu Dhabi (where again he was battling with F1.5), Mexico (where he couldn’t get past Ricciardo and then needed 2 attempts to take the fastest lap away from Max) were significant low points.

  6. Fast qualifier, bad racer.
    Fighting for position with a Williams? Come on!
    Good guy though.

    But he did his job last year for Mercedes: cost Verstappen quite a lot of points with his bowling. And yes, no doubt that was unintentional, but that highlights his lack of race craft even more.

    He’s been a serious let down for reaching fans in that second Mercedes seat for 5 years. For most hybrid years, the only competition for Hamilton came from his team mate and Bottas never posed a threat. Hopefully Russell will do better.

    1. He almost went “bowling” for a second time, in Jeddah. Ironically it was only Verstappen cutting the corner (the subject of the infamous “negotiations” with Masi during the red flag period) that stopped him from being rear-ended by Bottas.

      I do agree that his tendency to get mired in the midfield counts against him. I’d have put Perez ahead of him for his better racecraft, though in my own personal rankings positions 10 to 13 or 14 were all pretty close.

      1. Not sure if those who put perez ahead of bottas noticed, but with evenly matched luck and a similar car AND the superior racecraft which perez indeed has, he ended up being outscored by bottas! All included bottas is a stronger points scorer!

  7. We can only compare drivers to the cars they have and the team mates they have. Regarding the car, Bottas should simply be higher. Regarding the team mate, Bottas was up against an absolute legend of the sport.

    I think Bottas had enough very weak drivers to warrant a worse rating than this. Both he and Perez were ridiculously outpaced, albeit by perhaps the two defining drivers of the 21st century. They both had weak seasons, and none make my top 10. Bottas made too many errors at starts (Hungary, Mexico) and too often got caught in traffic he failed to navigate.

    1. Michael Schumacher was quite good I seem to recall.

      1. Sure, and back in 2006 I would have measured Massa against Schumacher and noticed the Brazilian was closer to Schumacher then than Bottas was to Hamilton in 2021 ;)

  8. Couple of sentences on his lows. Full paragraphs on each race where something went right. You have to laugh.

  9. Baku was enough to put him dead last as a racing driver. But we have Imola and Hungaroring to further confirm that status.

    He might be fast over a single lap without traffic, but he is incapable of racing another driver.

    Alfa would have been better off hiring Piastri than Bottas.

    1. i would say that he sometimes appears incapable of racing another driver rather than confirm that he is. Did you watch him at williams? even 2017 he was better at racing. And Monza this year was a recent example that he still literally is indeed capable. he has a big confidence problem that seems to have made him inconsistent. He may well have been effected mentally by losing to hamilton, which is admittedly a weakness.

  10. I guess it all depends on how you look at F1 drivers. Personally I dont like the likes of Bottas and would prefer to not see him on the grid at all. There is a couple of drivers like him that are just not allround drivers. They are fast without anyone around. Sorry, but that is not why I watch F1. If you have no wheel to wheel skills why are you at the pinnacle of Motorsport at all? I wish the level for entry into F1 would be raised significantly.

  11. Many comments seem to suggest that Bottas can’t overtake. I’m not so sure about that. Sure, Bottas was several times stuck behind midfield cars, but it was mostly against McLaren (with superior straightline speed) or Alpha Tauri (which had reason to race hard against Bottas).

    Mercedes wasn’t the dominant car it used to be this season. Sure, Hamilton seemed to be able to overtake more easily than Bottas, but Hamilton is one of the two best drivers at the moment, so the comparison isn’t fair. Besides, as the article states, Hamilton’s race pace was better than Bottas’, which obviously makes the overtaking easier also.

  12. someone or something
    17th January 2022, 12:40

    Mercedes sort of dropped the ball by needlessly dragging him along for another season. Russell’s 2021 was no different from his (second half of) 2020, and Bottas underdelivered as usual. They didn’t learn anything they didn’t already know. And now the driver change coincides with the regulation change. That was a year of pointless stagnation.

    But hey, if Hamilton does call it quits (I doubt it), re-hiring Bottas from Sauber would be pretty much the only sensible option Mercedes have left. So, there’s still a chance of him wasting even more of Mercedes’ potential.

    1. Or maybe Mercedes’ reluctance to sign Russell indicates they don’t expect him to be much better than Bottas? After all, we only know how good Russell is against Latifi, while Mercedes has a lot more data about him.

      Mercedes won WCC with Hamilton and Bottas again in 2021, so keeping Bottas for 2021 doesn’t seem like a catastrophic decision.

      1. I don’t think so. I think Mercedes expects Russell to be faster than Bottas. Which was also indicated when replaced Hamilton with COVID.
        I think they kept Bottas because they didn’t want to upset Hamilton and change a winning formula. That worked up to 2020 because the car was so good that Bottas usually started 2nd or 3rd.
        Last year however the differences were smaller and Bottas ended up in the midfield, where he was a disaster to be honest. And has cost the team many points.
        On top of that Mercedes probably couldn’t turn down Russell for another year or he might try his luck elsewhere.

      2. someone or something
        17th January 2022, 13:52

        @hotbottoms

        Or maybe Mercedes’ reluctance to sign Russell indicates they don’t expect him to be much better than Bottas?

        My rule of thumb for leading questions is: If the answer is a short “No”, don’t use it, unless you want to ridicule the underlying assumption.
        – If Mercedes expect Russell to perform more or less on Bottas’ level, why promote him at all?
        – Pretending Russell only drove against Latifi, and is therefore an unknown quantity, is plain wrong. We’ve seen Russell dealing with Bottas in a Mercedes in a race. He didn’t come out of that weekend looking like a second choice, to say the least.
        – Mercedes won the WCC despite Bottas. I mean, come on. It’s been a year since Mercedes would’ve won the WCC with Hamilton’s points alone. They could’ve fielded a drunk Mazepin and still won the trophy. That in itself should tell us all we need to know about the quality of this argument. Bottas’ contribution in 2021 was slightly less meaningless, but still nowhere near where it needs to be in case Red Bull’s second driver starts becoming competitive.
        – And lastly, alluding to “the data”, without having any, is just a smokescreen. Doubt, doubt, doubt everything, or rather: everything that contradicts my worldview.
        – We have a quick and easy explanation for Bottas’ contract extensions, one that is backed up by statements from Mercedes representatives: They kept him around because he and Hamilton were a harmonious pairing. Bottas had a key virtue: not being Rosberg. Not challenging Hamilton more often than not, not refusing to be complacent when Hamilton seemed to gain the upper hand, not treating his team mate like the first person he wants to beat. Mercedes thought they had enough of an advantage to enjoy the harmony that kept Hamilton’s capricious tendencies in check, because it was usually sufficiently large for Bottas to still be able to take a few points from Hamilton’s closest non-Mercedes competitors. Well, that backfired badly in 2021, with Bottas finishing ahead of Verstappen one single time. Sadly, his greatest contribution to Mercedes’ success in 2021 came from his bowling incident in Hungary.

        1. something or someone:
          Russell is almost 10 years younger than Bottas, so promoting him makes sense, if Mercedes thinks he is on Bottas’ level or better. I’m not criticising the decision to promote him.

          But if they thought he is the next Hamilton, why not sign him for 2021 already? I think you are underestimating Mercedes, if you think they were certain that they would be dominant in 2021 also.

          In my opinion, Russell seems to be a similar driver to Bottas: Quick on Saturdays, mediocre on Sundays.

          Obviously this debate won’t last long, since we’ll soon see how good Russell is against Hamilton. If Russell is on Hamilton’s level or a lot closer to Hamilton than Bottas was, I’ll gladly admit that I was wrong about him.

          1. I think his one race at mercedes proved that’s not the case, but indeed, generally in williams he wasn’t as impressive in races, so we’re gonna see, I think he will be on hamilton’s level.

        2. Excellent comment!

    2. Very interesting, but if Mercedes had swapped Bottas and Russell earlier I think Russell would have taken a greater share of points than Bottas did and Hamilton would not have even been close to Max at the last race.

  13. I think a simple summary of Bottas’ 2021 season is this:

    If he had done anything close to what was expected of him then Hamilton would’ve clearly won the Championship.

    Bottas seems unable to keep other drivers behind him at the start and struggles to work his way through the field. Compare that to Perez who also had a mixed season but was able to cause trouble when it counted (like the final race).

    Valtteri is undoubtedly a nice guy but, in terms of development, has improved little in the years between racing for Williams and 2021.

    1. I think Bottas took more points from Verstappen than Perez took from Hamilton.
      Less intentional, but the points were still taken away.

      1. someone or something
        17th January 2022, 14:11

        This is in fact true, but honestly, we should be past the stage where every mention of “Bottas is bad” triggers a “But Pérez” reflex. This isn’t a tug-of-war, a driver can suck independently from another.

        1. The second paragraph of the post to which I responded mentioned the team mate of Bottas. The third paragraph mentions Perez.
          Do you find it then odd that I mention Perez?

          And let’s be honest, the only reason for Perez and Bottas is that they should take away points from Hamilton or Verstappen. So judging their ‘value’ includes how well they took points away.
          As the other article highlighted, they had more or less equal machinery. Bottas had experience in the team, Perez was new to the team. I think Perez did a better job of taking away points out helping his team mate.
          Bottas did help his team mate, not by racing, but by bowling, taking engine penalties, etc.

          1. someone or something
            17th January 2022, 16:58

            OK, fair. I must’ve missed the bit about Pérez in the original comment.

            That notwithstanding, I don’t think Pérez deserved to be ranked higher than Bottas. Pérez deserves a slice of the benefit of doubt, for having to adapt to a completely new environment, unlike Bottas. But it has to be said that Bottas did perform better than Pérez in all the key aspects of performance. And even if helping the team mate were a major factor in determining a driver’s rank-able quality (I don’t think it should be), there was precious little to start from in 2021. Pérez took points away from Hamilton twice in 22 races, costing him 4 points in total. 6 points, if you include FLAPs.
            Bottas only finished ahead of Verstappen once, but at least he made it count. 7 points by virtue of winning in Turkey, plus 4 FLAPs that could’ve been Verstappen’s. On the other hand, there’s Pérez’s interference with Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, which may or may not have changed the race’s outcome. Hard to quantify, but that’s not a whole lot of points we’re talking about here. I’d call that Even Stevens.
            More easily quantifiable, however, is how they compared over the course of the season in terms of hard, cold results.
            Qualifying (only the thing that’s divided into three segments, everything else is a race):
            BOT – PER: 16-6 (average starting positions, pre-penalties: 3.77 – 6.41).
            Races finished ahead (only those that award 25 points):
            BOT – PER: 11-4.
            If you treat Bottas and Pérez like any two drivers in equivalent machinery, you can’t really look past the fact that Bottas consistently performed on a higher level. Pérez shone brightly in that one moment that may have mattered the most, but over the course of 22 races, he was no match for Bottas.

          2. Someone or something, that qualifying and race head to head makes things very clear, for me it was obvious bottas had performed better, but since there’s many people who insist on the opposite, cold numbers are what they need, you can’t argue with a 16-6 and a 11-4, that’s domination level.

      2. Certainly, Valtteri Bottas made 2 great contributions for the team:

        1- Bowling at Hungaroring, taking out both RBR’s and also Lando for good measure
        2- Colliding with Russell at Imola, causing the red flag that allowed his thrashed teammate to recover 19 points (flap included)

        Which shows that even a stopped watch gives the correct time twice a day

        Myself, I would have ranked Bottas #21 (counting the great Robert Kubica), or being generous #20 (very hard to compare a Haas with a Merc but I admit the faint possibility that Nikita has even less racecraft than Valtteri, if that can be conceived). But maybe the two great contributions for the team listed above are worth a top ten position.

  14. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    17th January 2022, 15:16

    In many ways, this is a generous rating but then again it’s nearly impossible to put Perez ahead of Bottas in the rankings.

    It was a strange season for Bottas. Once again, he wasn’t in contention for the WDC from the beginning and he helped the team win the WCC and oddly it was a mistake that helped the most with that.

    At other times, he seemed like he was driving a Red Bull as he allowed Verstappen by faster than Checo or the Alpha Tauri drivers did causing even Horner to wonder what was going on.

    I think the change was necessary for both Bottas and Mercedes.

  15. If Bottas was in any other car his ranking would have been lower than 10.

    1. More or less this is the place where to rank underperforming drivers of great cars, he had to be ahead of perez, so not many other drivers you could put ahead of them.

    2. Agree! I bet next year with the same level of his performance he will be around 13-16 in the rankings…just because alfa will surely not perform as good as mercedes ;)

  16. Always a red flag when a number 2 happens to be competitive when number 1 is not around. Strange huh. Bottas never shared the same tarmac as Lewis as if someone was afraid of getting the 2 tripped up.

  17. Bottas had the 2 worst drives of the season in Baku and Hungary. I don’t see him anywhere near the top 10, he was awful.

    1. You could ask yourself why he is ahead of Schumacher who clearly dominated his teammate and nearly always performed to the maximum of what the car could do? Same for Perez btw.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        18th January 2022, 20:45

        You are comparing Lewis Hamilton and Nikita Mazepin.

        1. Which are pretty much alike

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