When it rained in Turkey on Sunday morning, many Valtteri Bottas would not have tipped to return to the top of the podium. Bottas’ patchy shape in wet conditions would have given him cause for concern.
Wet conditions weren’t Bottas’ best friend during his five-year stint at Mercedes and with the lingering thoughts of Turkey 2020 as he spun six times as he beat teammate Lewis Hamilton on his way to the miserable 14th he demons from before one Year banished?
“It seems as if it rains at every race now,” joked Bottas before the race. Mercedes had a clear advantage over Red Bull in the dry, but the wet conditions often compensate for it.
With Verstappen in second place, Bottas had to deal with the spirited Dutchman in a head-to-head race alone. In wet conditions and Hamilton dropped to 11th due to an engine penalty, all signs pointed to another Verstappen race, but Bottas had other ideas.
How Bottas did it
While Bottas had to struggle with wet weather conditions in the past, the grippy surface of the Istanbul Park made for a unique experience. In contrast to a year ago, during the 58-lap race, the drivers had no trouble staying on the track with just a few mistakes.
Light drizzle made intermediates a breeze for the race start, but with no sun the track stayed humid for a long time, so it was important that the drivers didn’t destroy their tires so they didn’t pit until it was time for smooth tires . Bottas maintained his lead from pole position over Verstappen, quickly gaining a one-second lead before increasing it to three seconds.
The first decisive moment in the race on Sunday came when he briefly oversteered at Turn 1 shortly before approaching Nikita Mazepin in the Haas. With his reduced lead and just over two seconds, Verstappen seemed to have been watching out for his intermediates while Bottas burned them and tried to extend his lead at the top – something we saw countless times in the dry against Hamilton last year.
But no, Bottas had full control, shortly thereafter increased his pace and gained a six-second lead.
“The car was good in all conditions this weekend and that makes things easier, but I was really able to be in control. it and I would say that the most important thing today was tire management and not killing the tires at the beginning of the stint and trying to play the long game, ”said Bottas in the press conference after the race.
Bottas managed to handle his tires perfectly with the clean air at the front, which enabled him to set the pace while maintaining tire life. Mercedes called him on lap 38 for new intermediates, one lap after Verstappen to finish second as Leclerc had yet to stop.
It was another crucial moment in the race when Leclerc was riding the “Inter-Slick” (intermediates that no longer had grooves and resembled a slick tire) and the track was too dry for new intermediates, so Bottas and Verstappen didn’t close could rely on the Ferrari driver, at least initially. The drying track meant the ‘inter-slick’ was seemingly doable, which is why Hamilton was adamant about staying out and doing what he did in 2020 again.
Since Leclerc had a considerable lead at the front, Bottas simply couldn’t continue as he slowly brought his tires into the right window.
“When I caught up with Charles, he was still on his first set of tires,” he explained. “It was very fast on the slightly drier parts and I was faster on the slightly wetter parts because I had fresh tires and just as I was approaching it, my tires started to pucker a lot. But I obviously still caught up with him and then my tires obviously grained so heavily that they were slicks again and then they were fine.
“There was a little difference in pace and he had a few blocks and when I got him he had a little snapshot in the last corner and that helped.”
Bottas took the lead on lap 46 with a lunge on Leclerc in Turn 1. It was the perfect race up until then.
After Verstappen was satisfied with second place, Bottas extended his lead to over 14 seconds and completed two fastest laps to demonstrate his pace advantage in Istanbul Park. The Finn was in unstoppable shape.
“Actually very cute,” he added. “Overall, I think it was one of my best races from start to finish. It might have looked easy to some people, but in these conditions it is far from being.
“You can’t go wrong and it’s pretty easy to go wrong with conditions and drying when there is only one drying line. Everything just went smoothly, which I’m very happy about [about]. “
Banish his demons
Bottas had finally ended years of waiting for a Grand Prix victory – the 10th of his career and his first of the season. Salvation could be argued, 11 months after what was arguably the worst day of his career on the same track.
The 32-year-old’s resilience and ability to recover from adversity must be admired. Since his move to Alfa Romeo was announced, no driver has scored more points than Bottas with his performances in Monza and Istanbul as one of the best of his nine-year F1 career.
“As far as my race is concerned, I had probably the worst race of my career here last year and now one of the best, so much better,” he commented.
“Of course it’s satisfying to win and to drive a good race, that’s for sure. And like I said, the last time I was here I couldn’t count how many spins I had in the race. I think it was five or six, so at least I didn’t shoot today, so that’s a step forward. “
Role in the title race
With just six points separating Verstappen and Hamilton at the top of the championship, each point is so important to the final six rounds of 2021. Bottas’ role in the title race cannot be underestimated as he won the Dutchman with his win and fastest lap in Turkey.
Bottas may be on his way to Alfa Romeo for 2022, but he would like to say goodbye to Mercedes with a fifth constructors’ championship while helping Hamilton to a record-breaking eighth crown.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was full of praise for him after the race, describing him as a “10 out of 10 performance” and even hinting that he expected Bottas to increase his victory record before the end of the season.
“It may not be his last this season, because what he delivered this weekend was just incredible,” said Wolff. “Started from pole with ease, drove away, was the fastest man on the track, the best in terms of tire management, always under control and drove the fastest lap.
“This is a 10 out of 10 and can play an important role in the constructors’ championship, but also in helping Lewis, because today only Valtteri’s performance prevented Max from taking eight more points.”
Can he do it again
Bottas hopes to add a few more wins to his name before leaving Mercedes at the end of the year. Even if Alfa Romeo’s competitiveness is unknown for the next year, it will likely be his last year in which he regularly competes for the big honors in Formula 1.
It is noteworthy that Bottas has not clinched any consecutive victories in his career, but the Circuit of the Americas is a Mercedes stronghold that won every race in the hybrid era except 2018, with Bottas winning in 2019.
Given Hamilton’s situation in the title race, Bottas is unlikely to be able to beat his teammate on his performance, but like in Turkey, he’ll have to be there to pick up the pieces should they show up.
“Well, I’ve always had the confidence, but it’s nice to have a win and to remember that you can win races,” said Bottas. “It’s been a while, like I said. But to be honest, after Monza I am definitely very relaxed and could only concentrate on driving and that certainly helps. “