One year contracts are nothing new for Valtteri Bottas but his 2021 campaign could be his last with Mercedes. He has it all to do after George Russell impressed at the Sakhir Grand Prix at the end of last season in his one-off race for the world champions.
Russell’s contract with Williams ends at the year and everything points to him joining Mercedes for 2022. It means Bottas has it all to do if he is so remain with the team. What does he have to do?
Put simply, he will have to beat Lewis Hamilton. Bottas has a habit of starting the season well before dropping off as Hamilton picks up form after the opening Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old must be in realistic championship contention going into the summer break to show team principal Toto Wolff and Mercedes that he has the performance and consistency over at least a dozen races.
After ten races, Bottas has never been ahead of teammate Hamilton during his time at Mercedes. In fact, his first season with the team in 2017 was the year he was closest to Hamilton after ten races – just 22 points behind the seven-time world champion.
This is compared to a 59 point deficit to Hamilton in 2018, 39 points in 2019 and 44 points in 2020.
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Dates of Bottas' confirmation of a new contract at Mercedes
|2017||September 13 (After round 13)|
|2018||July 20 (After round 10)|
|2019||August 29 (After round 12)|
|2020||August 6 (After round 4)|
If Red Bull have closed the gap to Mercedes over the winter break, it will create further problems for Bottas.
Sergio Perez joining Max Verstappen at Red Bull makes the Milton Keynes-based outfit a significantly stronger threat to Mercedes.
An off day for Bottas will be clear to see because Perez and Verstappen will be there to capitalise. This was not the case in 2020 because Red Bull only had one car that was able to challenge at the front during most of the races.
Should Mercedes have a clear margin over the rest of the field, Bottas will have a slightly easier job because he will have two less drivers to worry about, although matching and even beating Hamilton will be no easy task.
In qualifying, Bottas is right there and the margins between the pair were close in 2020. He was just 0.082 behind Hamilton on average across the season.
He will need to be consistently at his best to stay with Hamilton and he has not been able to do yet in the last four seasons.
With Hamilton showing no signs of slowing down, Bottas will need to hit new heights and a purple patch of form early on to gain momentum.
“The main thing over the winter and over the break has been self-honesty - trying to work out how I can be better,” said Bottas.
"Knowing that when I'm on the grid in Bahrain that I've done everything I can to be at my physical and mental best, knowing I gave everything.”
Luck went against Bottas last year at times so capitalising on any mistakes or misfortune that Hamilton suffers will be critical. Psychologically it will hurt Hamilton and put the pressure on him to recover and hit back.
Realistically Bottas’ fate is out of his own hands. A solid season for Russell at Williams should see him replace Bottas at Mercedes for 2022. Russell’s performances at Williams are just as important as Bottas’ at Mercedes. A poor year for Russell could save Bottas but he cannot rely on that and it seems like a doubtful prospect.
The possibility of Hamilton retiring or taking a sabbatical would almost certainly guarantee Bottas’ place at Mercedes too, given the importance of continuity for next season as F1 undergoes major changes to the cars in an attempt to create better racing and improve the show from 2022.
Even before the first racing laps have taken place, Bottas is in a difficult position and has it all to do to remain with the world champions. If there was ever a time he needed to deliver, the opening stanza of the 2021 Formula 1 season is the time to do it.