After five years with the Mercedes Formula One team, each of which he spent in the shadow of his World Championship-winning teammate Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas will be moving on and taking Kimi Raikkonen’s place at Alfa Romeo. But how good was Bottas, really?
Driver quality can be a bit of a subjective measurement, considering the vast differences in wealth and technology between each F1 team — but with Hamilton having won several Championships, we can go ahead and propose that Bottas probably had one of the very best cars on the F1 grid during his tenure with Mercedes. But as we’ve seen with teams like Red Bull, cars are often developed with a specific driver in mind.
On the other hand, Bottas was a good, silent second-in-command. Both Mercedes and Hamilton have repeatedly said that Bottas is great at grinding, at putting in the work to keep Mercedes elevated above the rest. But no one wants to lie in the shadow of success for so long.
That put Bottas in a pretty undesirable position. He was in a team that could, in theory, provide him with a chance at winning a World Championship… but any time he didn’t, it would be especially disastrous to his reputation because he theoretically could have done better.
But what do the numbers say?
I am not a mathematician. For the number bit, I turn to the wonderful Chain Bear, who has done the heavy lifting:
To get the full picture, you’ll have to watch the video. Stuart compares qualifying results, which show that Hamilton has pretty consistently outclassed Bottas when it comes to securing a higher starting position. Stuart also compares stats from the Hamilton vs. Rosberg era, so we get a much clearer picture of what we’re talking about. And while Hamilton also consistently outclassed Rosberg, Rosberg also took pole position and the front row more frequently than Bottas. In fact, Rosberg’s average qualifying time was faster than Hamilton’s.
There’s more data to back things up, but the conclusion Stuart reaches is very much the one that many other fans have reached: Bottas has been a solidly good driver, but he was never destined to be a World Champion. And that’s exactly where Mercedes wanted him to be.