Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Valtteri Bottas will need to justify his seat next season, but insists the pressure is no greater than at any other team.
Bottas failed to win a race in 2018 — his second season at Mercedes — while teammate Lewis Hamilton secured his fifth drivers’ championship. The Finn has only ever signed one-year contracts since joining the constructors’ champions and the presence of Esteban Ocon as reserve driver highlights one of many options Mercedes has, but Wolff says the need for Bottas to perform is the same as it would be with any team.
“Every racing driver in a Formula 1 car has to look over his shoulder,” Wolff told Reuters. “It is a very brutal sport where only the best ones survive and they are very well aware.
“They have made the selection of the top 20 racing drivers in the world and every single year they have to justify that they deserve the place. It is not only valid for Valtteri but all the others as well.”
Although Bottas ended up without a win last season, a badly timed safety car saw him lose the lead late on in China, while an even later puncture at the next race in Azerbaijan also robbed him of a near-certain victory. Wolff uses both races as examples of how the season could have looked so different from Bottas’ point of view.
“Valtteri is a fierce warrior and he wouldn’t be where he is today if he was not an outstanding racing driver. I think he absolutely embraces the challenge of being teammate and competitor to Lewis Hamilton.
“I think where things have gone wrong with Valtteri in 2018 was that he was very unlucky. He could have, should have — but that doesn’t count — won three races.”
The third race Wolff references saw Bottas hand over the lead to teammate Hamilton in Russia when no longer in realistic title contention, and Wolff believes the start of a new season will refresh the former Williams driver.
“I think within any racing driver there’s a certain mental setback that happens. And it happened to Valtteri and he will work on it over the winter and will start the season fresh.
“All points go back to zero and he has the same opportunity like he has in the last year to win the driver’s title. He certainly has the talent and the intelligence.”