44 vs 77 – Valtteri Bottas expects to take his best shot at Lewis Hamilton in 2018

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With everything set for the start of the 2018 F1 season with the Australian GP in Melbourne, many Formula One rivalries will resume. Including teammates battles, such as Max Verstappen vs Daniel Ricciardo or Sergio Pérez vs Esteban Ocon, Kimi Raikkonen vs Sebastian Vettel. But what about Mercedes?. In 2017, the inter-team battle was mostly one-sided in favor of Lewis Hamilton over Valtteri Bottas inside the Silver Arrow’s garage. But the Finn remains hopeful that he can come back in full strength and beat his all-time great colleague and, guess what, data backs Bottas up.

Preview of the Valtteri Bottas vs Lewis Hamilton Battle

In terms of pure points, Bottas has been as dominant as any other driver against his respective teammates. Prior to 2017, the Finn had not lost versus any teammate since 2009. When he was a rookie in the Formula 3 Euro Series he was beaten by the talented late Jules Bianchi. In 2010 the Finn defeated his teammates easily and was the runner-up in the F3 Euro Series. In 2011, he was crowned champion in GP3.

Since his F1 debut with Williams in 2013, Bottas has faced Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado for one year and Felipe Massa for three years. How dominant was he? Bottas led Maldonado and Massa by 102 total points (411 to 309). The Finn defeated Maldonado 4-1 in the non-competitive Williams-Renault in 2013. Bottas beat Massa on points in their three year battle (186 to 134 in 2014, 136 to 121 in 2015 and 85-53 in 2016).

Prior to his tough encounter with Hamilton, Bottas never allowed a teammate to be superior on Saturdays. The Finn beat Maldonado 12-7 in his rookie year. He defeated Massa 13-6 in 2014, although the Brazilian had one Pole Position and Bottas didn’t. In 2015 he out-qualified Massa again (11-8) and in 2016 he demolished the then-retiring Brazilian 17-4, his greatest year in qualifying.

Bottas: I can win it all in 2018

Despite a difficult 2017 alongside Hamilton, Bottas expects better luck in 2018: The Finn said in a Mercedes’ Press Conference last week that he “can be the champion in 2018, there are no reasons to think otherwise. I have learned from last year against Lewis”.

It is F1 after all, he can be World Champion and, probably, most of the fans will say that it was well deserved, even if it wasn’t.

Will the upcoming season be business as usual for Hamilton?

Valtteri Bottas is a confident man and he certainly believes that he can match Hamilton’s speed, consistency, and aggression. Hamilton, a four-time champion, is not going anywhere and, most importantly, neither his conviction.

It was fair to say that Bottas has shown amazing ability to defeat his teammates with ease. But none of those drivers were even close to Hamilton’s level. And the Finn recognizes that. “He is definitely the toughest team-mate I have ever had and he is one of the best drivers ever in Formula One,” Bottas said.

But 77 is confident that 44 is beatable. “He was the best driver last season, but there isn’t an unbeatable driver.”

Hamilton has been dominant against his teammates since his F1 debut in 2007. He defeated Fernando Alonso in his first year, Heikki Kovalainen in 2008 and 2009, Jenson Button in 2010 and 2012, Nico Rosberg from 2013 to 2015 and last season he showed how it feels to have a champion across the garage.

Bottas feels that Hamilton is beatable, and surely, everyone is. Hamilton lost twice to a teammate in his F1 career, Button in 2011 and Rosberg in 2016. Both losses can be explained by a number of circumstances, such as Hamilton’s issues outside of the track in 2011 and his car’s lack of reliability in 2016. But of course, most Formula One fans maintain the winner-takes-all-the-credit thought process and explanations are worthless most of the time.

Bottas described his 2017 season, in which he trailed Hamilton by 58 points, as a sign that he can beat 44. “I was able to show that I can do it at many races last year”. In fact, he defeated Hamilton at eight different races. Whilst the English driver finished ahead twelve times.

The difference in points is easily explained in the number of wins each of the drivers had. Hamilton won nine races and, really, stopped trying after he secured his title with two races to go. Bottas managed to score his first three wins in F1. He won twice before the summer break (Russia and Austria). And ended the season at the top step in Abu Dhabi.

Another statistic which tells a big part of round one of this friendly battle is the number of poles. Hamilton scored eleven and eclipsed Michael Schumacher’s all-time tally, Bottas was on pole four times. Half of those were achieved in the last two events of the season, after the drivers’ title was clinched.

Hamilton’s power

Since the introduction of the current points system, Hamilton has averaged 284 points per season, prior to 2017. Whilst his teammates averaged 267 in that span. That stat says that Hamilton has not been dismantling his teammates every year, but has beaten them consistently. With the prior points system, he averaged 85 points and his teammates 61.

In fairness to the Briton, every year his team gave parity to his teammates and the same options in every Grand Prix. Points do not tell the entire story. But this data only enhances his achievements.

Hamilton has been overwhelming in terms of wins, poles, race finishes and overall qualifying against his teammates. The Englishman has won 62 races and his colleagues collected 38 between them with the same car. Hamilton is the all-time leader in Pole Positions. He achieved 72, almost twice the number of his mates altogether (37).

Although number 44 hasn’t been the most demolishing in terms of points against his partners. In race position finishes and overall qualifying, he has been astonishing. Hamilton has finished ahead of his teammates in 119 races, whilst he was behind only 89 times. On Saturdays, the difference is bigger, with Hamilton in front 130 to 78.

2018 Preview

Both Mercedes’ drivers will get into the year with strong possibilities of a title. And that might heat things up between them. This will lead to a tense atmosphere and, as a consequence, it will generate competition.

Bottas will take his best shot. The Finn is more established inside the Mercedes garage and certainly will have a better performance than last year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he will beat Hamilton or that he let everybody down in 2017. That was not the case.

Hamilton is simply a better driver and the fastest of his generation. It is always tough for a driver with no experience in fighting for championships to face-off against a Top 5 driver of all-time. But it doesn’t mean it is an impossible task.

Hamilton will probably have the upper hand in this battle. Since he is better on Saturdays and that makes him hard to catch on race day. But just remember, no driver looked good in his first year with Hamilton. People will be able to analyze Bottas based on a level playing field in 2018. Maybe the 2018 World Champion’s name is tied to #44 or #77 on the grid.

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