Since driving for Mercedes in 2017, Valtteri Bottas has played the perfect little soldier. On paper his bosses have always told him he can fight for the title, but in reality Lewis Hamilton’s talent makes life impossible for the Finn. From the start of each season, he is regularly beaten by the Briton, and by halfway through the championship, the case is over, Mercedes executives are betting everything on Lewis Hamilton.
When necessary, Valtteri Bottas is then asked to let his team-mate pass wisely. The Finn has been living this little hell since 2017, but this year everything will change. After long hesitation Mercedes preferred George Russell to him, while the Finn took refuge with Sauber for the next three years.
Suddenly, Valtteri Bottas feels liberated. At Monza, during qualifying, he showed that his speed is still there by setting the best time, while at Zandvoort, last week, he disobeyed Mercedes’ orders by setting the fastest lap at the end of the race, snatching the point rewarding Lewis Hamilton, and forcing the latter to a last minute tire change to get it back.
Valtteri Bottas could now refuse to play the good little soldier for Lewis Hamilton. This weekend at Monza, however, he will not be able to do much to hinder the victory promised to his team-mate: just before qualifying, the Mercedes team changed every part of its engine.
As this is his fourth engine of the season (only three allowed), the Finn will be penalized ten grid places for each element. Mercedes having changed its thermal engine (ICE), its turbo (TC), the hybrid engine responsible for recovering the heat from the turbo (MGU-H) and the hybrid engine for recovering the kinetic energy of braking (MGU-K), he must lose 40 places on the grid… which will make him start last in the Italian Grand Prix.
“Of course, I’ll go far, concedes Valtteri Bottas. But we have an excellent race pace, I still hope to be able to score some big points on Sunday. “
For Saturday’s sprint race, on the other hand, he retains his place in front – it is not a real race, but a race determining the starting grid and pole position. Monza is a good choice for an engine change involving penalties, as the Milan Autodrome makes overtaking quite easy. Valtteri Bottas should thus be able to score points on Sunday, but he will not be a hindrance to the victorious march of Lewis Hamilton.
“Of course, I’ll go far, concedes Valtteri Bottas. But we have an excellent race pace, I still hope to be able to score some big points on Sunday. ” After this Italian Grand Prix, there will be eight races to go – less, no doubt, as the races in Turkey and Brazil are still subject to confirmation. For pilots who still have to change their engine – almost all of them! -, Monza is a great time. Other drivers could emulate Valtteri Bottas here.
With all the seats allocated for the 2022 season, only the seat of the second Sauber remains available, alongside Valtteri Bottas. At Monza, team boss Frédéric Vasseur revealed that there were “probably five or six drivers” on his list of candidates.
“I don’t want to name a name, because if I forget one, it will be a tragedy !, adds the Frenchman. I’ve always said we’re going to watch what’s going on in the junior series (Formula 2, note), and there are still a few races left for them, here and in Sochi. Then we’ll see. ”
If the team does not retain Antonio Giovinazzi (whom Ferrari pushes forward), the best candidate could be Guanyu Zhou, current second in the F2 championship, just 5 points behind the leader. Zhou is accompanied by an envelope of Chinese sponsors weighing 20 million Euros, a huge amount that would help the Sauber team well.
If chosen, Zhou (pronounced “Jo”) would be the first Chinese driver to start an F1 Grand Prix. So far, only one Chinese man has been seen driving an F1 car, Ho-Pin Tung, which drove for private testing in a Renault F1 in December 2009.
Formula 1 management plans to increase the number of sprint races (those on Saturday) next year, but give them independent status. These would be real small races, where more points would be scored, but which would no longer decide the starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix – for which Friday’s qualifying would be used a second time. But an idea is now coming back to the table: to spice up the Sunday show, we could then reverse the Sunday starting grid – the pole-position holder should therefore start last.
“At Ferrari, we believe in bringing more spectacle to the fans, for the entertainment that F1 offers.”
This idea was put forward last year and was rejected by Mercedes. Obviously, the German brand did not want to lose its superiority. But at Ferrari, we are in favor. “I like the idea,” said Mattia Binotto, the boss. I think it would be interesting for the show. At Ferrari, we believe in bringing more spectacle to the fans, for the entertainment that F1 offers. ”
Not sure he would have been so enthusiastic if Ferraris dominated everything, as in the early 2000s. But it’s been 14 years since the Italian marque won the title. So reversing the grid can’t hurt!
Daniel Ricciardo set the fifth fastest time in the qualifying session. What may sound great – it’s his best dry track qualifying of the season – but what left him in what he describes as “internal rage”.
“You know, I call myself ‘milk soup’, because I can leave in terrible anger and calm down right after. This is what happened to me here. When my engineer told me over the radio that I was fifth in qualifying, he added, “I know you’re not going to like the gaps… Indeed. When I saw it, it put me in one of those rages! “
Daniel Ricciardo qualified… 6 thousandths off fourth place from teammate Lando Norris, and three hundredths off third place from Max Verstappen. A nothing. “It was at the second chicane that I lost a bit. I never did manage to come out well. What bothers me, I could easily have been third for the first time this season … “