Valtteri Bottas not only won the first Formula 1 grand prix of 2019 but his dominance in Australia sent out a clear message to his team, rivals and critics.
Last season the Finn ended the 2018 campaign in fifth place in the drivers’ championship – a massive 161 points behind Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton who won his fifth world title.
Bottas failed to win a race in 2018 and over the winter months there has been whispers that Mercedes reserve driver Esteban Ocon could be in line to take his seat in the future.
However, last month 29-year-old Bottas told F1.com that his target was to “win as much as I can” in 2019. He couldn’t have wished for a better start.
After qualifying second behind Hamilton in Melbourne it was Bottas who went on to take the 25 points for the victory. He finished 20 seconds ahead of his team-mate and also gained an extra point for recording the fastest lap at Albert Park.
Bottas’s performance has added “another dimension” to the 2019 season, says the BBC’s Andrew Benson.
New beard and no longer the wingman
Benson reported that the Finn was “on a mission” in Melbourne and that the Mercedes driver returned from the winter break having reflected on “the most difficult and disappointing year of his career”.
“He went on holiday to Chile, and then back home to Finland, with a new beard and a new attitude,” said Benson. “From the start of the weekend in Australia, Bottas was a man on a mission.”
Former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer believes that Bottas is no longer “just Lewis Hamilton’s wingman” at Mercedes.
In his BBC column Palmer wrote: “Bottas has sent a convincing message of intent. There are 20 races to go, the true pecking order hasn’t even begun to show itself on a Melbourne circuit that is unique and unpredictable in equal measure.
“But one thing is clear – Bottas’s wingman days are over for now. He’s in the 2019 season to win.”
To whom it may concern…
It was not just Bottas’s beard or attitude that was being talked about by fans and the media – but also the sweary radio message to his critics…
After passing the finishing line in Australia Bottas said over the team radio: “To whom it may concern, f*** you!”
When asked by Sky Sports about the radio comment Bottas replied: “It just came, I just wanted to send my best regards. That’s it. Honestly, I didn’t think about it or plan it, it just came.
“Obviously there are many people who support you, and honestly I appreciate that a lot. There are always ups and downs, and you can really see the true support quite easily.
“And then through the difficult times there’s the other part, which is a lot more negative. That’s their weakness, so it’s fine.”
F1’s new bad boy
In his column headlined “Valtteri Bottas and his new ‘f*** you’ mentality”, Planet F1’s Mark Scott highlighted how the Mercedes driver “appeared hell-bent on proving a point” in Melbourne.
Scott wrote: “What has emerged from the winter wilderness is a fearless bearded warrior, fuelled by porridge and revenge. Bottas has given us something Ferrari could not provide in Melbourne: a tingling sense that things could be different this year.
“If it turns out that we don’t get Mercedes vs. Ferrari this season, then sign us up for Lewis Hamilton vs. Valtteri Bottas.”
On Twitter many F1 fans commented on Bottas’s new “bad boy” persona. FormulaSpy.com editor Thomas Maher tweeted: “If Bottas really is gonna be a bad boy (oooohhhh) this year, then I can’t wait to see how it’s handled by everyone around him!”
Praise from the boss
After out-pacing world champion Hamilton, Bottas added the fastest lap extra point for a maximum 26-point haul in Melbourne.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said that Bottas’s performance was the best he’s ever seen from the Finn.
Wolff told F1.com: “I’ve seen most of the races in his career in all categories and this was the strongest. I’m very happy and he deserves it.”
Wolff had actually instructed his team not to go for the extra point – a new addition this season – but admits that he was pleased with the perfect 44-point haul from Bottas and Hamilton.
“In the morning meeting, when we talked about strategy, I forbid to go for fastest lap if we were running one, two or three,” Wolff added.
“They ignored me. I think it was a plot between the engineers and the drivers. Because I think the engineers were keen and the drivers were keen.
“In the end I’m very happy – collecting that extra point is good, it’s entertaining, it’s a great new part of the spectacle. I believe it’s taking risks, especially when you’re in for the big points – should you go for the fastest laps?
“But my reference point, being in control of a car, is my own driving and not the level of the F1 drivers. I didn’t like it so much!”
The second race of the 2019 Formula 1 season will be the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday 31 March. Held at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir the Bahrain GP will start at 4.10pm (UK time).