The US GP was not the greatest race we’ve seen in 2013, and after eight consecutive wins the novelty of another Sebastian Vettel victory has worn off somewhat. But there was much of interest down the field during the weekend, not least the emergence from the shadows of Valtteri Bottas.
The timing was intriguing, given that Kevin Magnussen recently joined Daniil Kyvat on the fast track to F1 fame and fortune. Both are highly regarded both by their respective teams and others, and both will be in the spotlight next year.
So poor has the form of Williams been this year that it’s easy to forget that Bottas has as many admirers as those two, but aside from a superb performance in a damp qualifying session in Montreal – where he took an astonishing third – he’s had little chance to showcase his talent.
For the most part the Williams duo have qualified around 17th and 18th, missing the cut to get out of Q1 and only just out-pacing the Caterhams and Marussias. Indeed on occasion they’ve been given a tough time in the races by the cars of the ‘new’ teams.
But in his quiet, determined way Bottas has got on with learning his trade, impressing a team that already rated him with his approach and speed. He has beaten team-mate Pastor Maldonado, a man who was regularly in the top two rows last year, in the qualifying battle.
Bottas found himself in lofty company in Montreal, qualifying third
In contrast Maldonado has suffered a meltdown, finding a way to extract himself and his sponsor from Williams and making it clear that he was happy to be leaving. It culminated in Austin with silly accusations about the team ‘sabotaging’ his qualifying efforts. That came after he could manage only 18th while Bottas stunned the pitlane by topping Q1, and going on to be fourth in Q2 and an ultimately disappointed ninth in Q3.
Various factors came into play. Firstly Williams has genuinely found some performance after abandoning its unsuccessful Coanda exhaust and going back to a more conventional concept, and secondly it was a tricky qualifying session where it was critical to get the tyres just so within the right operating window, something that a few big names failed to do.
Valtteri Bottas career highlights
2008 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion
2008 Formula Renault NEC champion
2009 Masters of Formula 3 race winner
2010 Masters of Formula 3 race winner
2011 GP3 Series champion
Qualifying is one thing, but it would have been no surprise to see Bottas slip down a few places come the race given the odds of the package being as strong over the full 56 laps. In fact he drove a superb race, ultimately gaining a spot to finish eighth and log his first points. It was a beautifully measured drive, but he also showed some real aggression with a bold move around fellow rookie Esteban Gutiérrez, who admittedly had older tyres. Forget any Iceman comparisons, after the race Bottas had a huge smile on his face.
“It’s difficult to explain, it feels very good,” he said. “We did a perfect race, the strategy, pitstops, and perfect information from the pitwall all race about the tyres. Very happy. Better late than not at all!”
Rather than making life harder, the warmer temperatures on race day played into his hands.
“I think actually today it helped us in the beginning with the tyre warm-up, there were no problems with that. I think it was good at the beginning, it was really up to me to manage the temperature of the tyres. You need to do all the tricks to keep the temperatures down, and still you need to go fast. There was a bit of pressure from Rosberg in the end, and that’s why the lap times dropped a little bit.”
Rosberg? This is a man who has wontwo races in 2013, and taken a string of poles, being beaten fair and square by a Williams that has been at the opposite end of the grid all year…
Figuring the tyres out
“It was good fun, I really enjoyed it, especially the pass on Gutiérrez. The team told me that I needed to save the tyres, but I decided that one lap I’m going to go for it, and try if I can catch him and go. We did, and after that it was just about tyre management. It’s a lot about choosing when to push, when to manage.
“It’s really nice, I’m just really looking forward to working with the team next year with the new car. We’re going in the right direction, I feel very good in the team, and for me it’s like a family. I’m just really looking forward to the future. So, at the moment, feeling really good, and just looking for the future.”
A man of the future indeed. This has not been the greatest season in the history of Williams F1, but with a Mercedes powertrain coming for next year, and previous mistakes addressed as Pat Symonds sorts out the organisation, the only way is up. Bottas is a key part of those plans, along with the incoming Felipe Massa. Maldonado could yet come to regret his petulance…