Valtteri Bottas is in a precarious position in the Mercedes team, despite qualifying in pole position in Portugal last weekend. The swirling rumours on the topic of whether Bottas will be replaced are accelerating at a rapid pace in recent days, even going so far as to suggest that he might not last to the end of the year and could be replaced mid-season. Whether that would result in George Russell being promoted into the seat at Mercedes freeing up a space for the Williams reserve driver, Jack Aitkin, only time will tell.


There appears to be some tension developing between Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Bottas, as evidenced by the recent radio messages from Toto mid-race at Imola and again during the race at Portimao, which at the time seemed innocuous and insignificant. The mid-race message was on the surface interpreted as a motivational push from Toto to help Bottas give his all during a promising spell in the race where it looked like he would catch Verstappen in second place. However, as we look back and analyse it as more details emerge of the position Bottas finds himself in, the radio messages seem very unusual indeed. It is rare for Toto to communicate directly with the drivers during the race and it is also interesting when you consider what the actual message was: “Hunt him down, Valtteri, you are the quickest car.” Looked at in another light, that might not be encouragement, but a reprimand. Bottas has the quicker car, he should not have been fighting to catch up with the Red Bull. 


Soon after that radio instruction the pace of Bottas’s car fell away and what looked like a Mercedes first and second quickly turned into a first and third. When you also consider the fact that Bottas had a horrible weekend in Italy, languishing in ninth position before dramatically crashing out of the race during an overtake attempt by a Williams, yes that’s right, a Williams, it doesn’t bode well.


That’s not the first disappointing performance by Bottas either: he was embarrassed by the young George Russell at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix while Lewis Hamilton was out of action recovering from Covid-19. A terrible team blunder cost both drivers the opportunity of winning the race that weekend, but George Russell emerged with an ever-growing reputation as a talented driver, while Bottas was left with a damaged reputation. He was not as fast as Russell, he was overtaken by Russell twice and he was unable to capitalise on the first opportunity he has had to drive the best car in the field without the pressure of lining up alongside his longtime team-mate Hamilton.


It’s sad to see the slow demise of a talented driver like Bottas. After all, he has delivered some impressive wins in recent years, four during the 2019 season and a further two during the 2020 season. However, Bottas is now seen as the perennial bridesmaid to the two best drivers currently, Hamilton and Verstappen. If the disappointment continues in the next few race weekends, Mercedes will inevitably start to consider whether they take a chance on another option. My bet is we will see Russell driving for Mercedes sooner rather than later.