Heading into the opening round of the 2019 season it looked like it would be similar to 2017 and 2018 with Scuderia Ferrari/Mercedes duelling for the titles. There was even suggestions that with team personnel changes at Ferrari and Mercedes appearing to be slightly on the back foot going into the season that Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel would make it an even closer and more prolonged fight for the title.
Many also would have expected the main title fight to be between Vettel and Lewis Hamilton with perhaps Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen challenging at the front as well, but not many would have mentioned Valtteri Bottas.
After Australia and then the first five races of the season, that all changed as Mercedes claimed five consecutive 1-2 finishes in the opening rounds, with Bottas winning the opening round in Australia and also in Azerbaijan. With Vettel effectively out of the title fight, 2019 could have been a very processional season with Lewis Hamilton left to romp to his sixth title, potentially clinching it just after the traditional end of the ‘European season’ in Italy.Embed from Getty Images
It may still feel like that to some after Hamilton chalked up four consecutive race victories from the Spanish Grand Prix to the French Grand Prix, giving him a firm command on the championship. Despite this, Valtteri Bottas has kept the title mathematically alive as long as Sebastian Vettel did in 2017 and 2018, with Hamilton having clinched his 2017 and 2018 titles with two races to spare and for the Briton likely to do the same in 2019.
It is also impressive considering how disappointing Bottas’ 2018 season was, which was highlighted by having to give up a win at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix to aide Hamilton’s title chances. With the Finn ending last season with no victories, only eight podium finishes, two pole positions and seven fastest laps, amassing 247 points on his way to fifth in the standings, effectively second to last of the top six drivers.
Bottas started 2019 by going toe to toe with Hamilton and was within touching distance of the Briton for five races before losing ground from the Monaco Grand Prix onwards, while Hamilton went on his four race winning run. Even then Bottas’ season hasn’t unravelled to the same extent as Vettel’s did in the middle to latter parts of 2017 and 2018.
So far this season, Bottas has won three races, claimed four pole positions and two fastest laps as well as fourteen podiums, amassing 289 points so far. This isn’t far off Vettel’s 2017 and 2018 seasons stats (table below), although there were only twenty races in 2017.
It may be tempting to downplay and joke about Bottas’ 2019 title challenge, or dismiss it by claiming that Vettel made more of a fight of it in 2017 and 2018, but the fact remains Bottas has been Hamilton’s main challenger this season. Or think of it this way, Bottas’ 2019 season has shown just how much Ferrari and Vettel under performed, not just in 2018, but also in 2017.
When, inevitably, Hamilton clinches the championship, take a moment to consider just how strong Bottas’ 2019 season has been and made what could have been a very processional season, a little less so.