Bottas remains in Hamilton’s shadow after Bahrain and Imola

F1 is back, with opening rounds at Bahrain and Imola. Lewis leads but his team-mate needs to show selfishness, says Mark Hughes

Max Verstappen leads at the start of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Max Verstappen leads from Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Bahrain GP

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Recall that Valtteri Bottas quote at the launch of this season’s Mercedes? How he sounded as though he already realised 2021 was maybe his last chance in a title-contending car? “When I get to the last race in Abu Dhabi,” he said, “I want to look back and say that I did 100%, I did every single bit that I could to win the title; that’s the ultimate goal for this year. That is going to be the same for all the people around me, whoever I’m working with, I’ll demand as much as I feel like I need to, to get the support and the information that I need, and maybe that way, I can be a bit more selfish. One year in a lifetime, giving everything that you have is actually quite a short time.”

But trying to keep yourself out of the support role when your team-mate is Lewis Hamilton isn’t easy and in Bahrain for the opening race of the 2021 season Bottas… fell into the support role as Hamilton delivered an against-the-odds victory in what was not, for once, the fastest car. That status belonged to the Red Bull-Honda RB16B in which Max Verstappen set a superb pole position and led the first stint of the race. Bottas was a distant third.

Bottas’ Bahrain weekend just gradually slid away from him in a way that’s become so very familiar in the previous four seasons. Working backwards from that third place there, we can clearly see how the smallest details begin the untangling, and when the competition is of the quality of Hamilton and Verstappen, recovery tends to be that elusive one step out of reach.

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