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Formula 1

Should Bottas’s crash impact Mercedes’ 2022 driver decision?

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

If we are to believe that Mercedes had not made a decision on its 2022 Formula 1 driver line-up before the Hungarian Grand Prix then George Russell and Valtteri Bottas could not have made more contrasting pitches.

Bottas made a costly error into Turn 1, skittling three other cars and ending his race immediately.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner sarcastically noted that Bottas had done a great job for Mercedes, as Sergio Perez was forced to retire and Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen had so much damage he barely made it back into the points.

But it was not something for Mercedes to applaud: Bottas fell short of the standard needed. His error undid an ideal qualifying performance in which Bottas split Hamilton and Verstappen and should have taken points off the Red Bull driver anyway.

Bottas doubts one race will be decisive. “I spoke to Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team boss],” he said. “We didn’t speak about it [how the crash might impact Mercedes’ decision].

“I don’t think one race will influence anything. I don’t think so. We’ll see in the next weeks what happens.”

That was supported by Wolff, who replied when asked if this would influence his decision: “No. The mistake was unfortunate with big consequences.

“He got sandwiched by the two cars in front, lost all downforce and then it was already too late.

“And it doesn’t influence at all the decision.”

Bottas will hope he’s right, otherwise, the Hungarian Grand Prix couldn’t have gone any worse for his chances of being retained.

But this is the correct position for Mercedes to take.

After all, that was Bottas’s 90th race for Mercedes. He’s won 10% of those, been a reliable performer in most others. Why would one error discount everything else that came before?

That’s the good side of things from Bottas’s point of view. The bad side is that the trend in the bank of data Mercedes has on him was already turning negative.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

If Hungary did influence Mercedes’ decision all it would do is offer an extreme manifestation of the cases being made by Bottas and Russell this season in the first place.

Bottas goes into the break with a difficult season at its lowest ebb. He only has 55% of Hamilton’s points tally, which is worse than any previous season, after a first half of 2021 that could be generously described as “mixed”.

Bot Ham Points Percentage

Conversely, Russell cashed in on the first-corner chaos and finally scored an emotional first points finish for Williams. He’s also stopped doing the number two job effectively, having failed to directly take points off Verstappen at all this season. As mentioned earlier, Hungary was a big chance to do so legitimately (the fact he did it by wrecking Verstappen’s race doesn’t count).

His jubilant and briefly tearful post-race reaction was quite the opposite of Bottas’s solemn, apologetic stance.

So, unfortunately for Bottas, whether the decision is based on one race or not, his case isn’t as strong as it used to be – especially as Mercedes needs to pick a driver who works in a post-Hamilton future and Bottas is a questionable support act at present let alone a lead driver.

While Russell’s stock is still on the rise, Bottas’s is dipping. There have been examples this season of good teamwork, and a few good results, but that is barely the least Mercedes can expect of one of its drivers in a title-challenging car.

Right when Bottas needs to be at his Mercedes peak, he’s wobbling. And the man gunning from his seat continues to go from strength to strength.

As we approach the Mercedes driver line-up equivalent of D-Day, the signs are pointing in one direction. And Bottas’s Hungary error has nothing to do with that.

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