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Bottas and Perez make themselves title players in Turkey

Bottas and Perez make themselves title players in Turkey

FORMULA ONE: Valtteri Bottas starred in the Turkish Grand Prix with a faultless wet-weather performance to help teammate Lewis Hamilton minimise the damage of a difficult weekend.

By Michael Lamonato

Wednesday 13 October 2021, 02:15PM

The circumstances were set in Turkey for Bottas to crack, but instead he excelled. Photo: AFP

The circumstances were set in Turkey for Bottas to crack, but instead he excelled. Photo: AFP

It’s been more than 12 months since Valtteri Bottas mounted the top step of a Formula 1 podium, and the celebratory sparkling wine was a much-needed tonic.

Bottas is in the twilight of his days as a Mercedes driver, to be ousted at the end of the year by young gun George Russell. In 2022 he’ll lead the project to rebuild the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team, during which time podiums, never mind victories, will be scarce at best.

His victory in Turkey, the 10th win of his career, came against considerable adversity. He inherited pole from Lewis Hamilton, who served a 10-place penalty for using too many engine parts, but the race started in miserable drizzle of the sort Bottas has typically struggled with.

Indeed last year’s Turkish Grand Prix, also run in treacherous wet conditions, was one of the worst of his career. While Hamilton won in imperious form to clinch the world championship, Bottas slipped and slid off the track all afternoon on his way to an embarrassing 14th.

And this year he would line up alongside renowned wet weather specialist Max Verstappen, who was out to exact maximum damage on the penalised Hamilton to overturn his two-point championship deficit.

The circumstances were set for Bottas to crack, but instead he excelled. Verstappen had no answer to his pace, and in emphatic late-race flourish the Finn even took the bonus point for fastest lap.

“Very sweet,” Bottas said, describing his victory. “To some people it could have looked easy, but it’s far from that in these conditions.

“Overall I think it was one of my best races in terms of how it went from beginning to the end.”

Mercedes celebrated enthusiastically, but not just for Bottas’s sake. At a crucial juncture in the championship, the Finn had finally delivered fully for Hamilton.

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Several times this season he has been called upon to support Hamilton’s title campaign by either picking up the pieces on an off day for the Briton or spoiling Verstappen’s strategy. Occasionally he’s been in a position to do so, but he’s often been wilted by the ferocious pace of the championship battle, his limp defending against Verstappen in the Netherlands and Russia just two recent examples.

But Bottas hasn’t been needed more critically than in Turkey. With Hamilton starting 11th with a penalty and Verstappen on the front row, he could at least prevent the Dutchman from scoring full points and from setting the fastest lap, which he did with aplomb.

Indeed the Turkish Grand Prix was a race of the so-called second drivers, for while Mercedes can thank Bottas for containing Verstappen, Red Bull Racing can likewise praise Sergio Perez and even sister team driver Yuki Tsunoda for slowing Hamilton’s podium push.

Tsunoda held up Hamilton for eight laps at the start of the race, costing him more than 11 seconds - he finished just eight seconds off third place - and Perez provided the highlight of the grand prix with a supreme wheel-to-wheel defence halfway through the afternoon to keep the charging Briton behind.

Not only did both battles cost Hamilton time, but it wore away his tyres, ultimately preventing him from making it to the end of the race without a pit stop, dropping him to fifth.

The championship battle has swung in Verstappen’s favour, but only just, with the Dutchman now leading Hamilton by just six points with six rounds remaining.

Neither Bottas nor Perez has stood a chance in the title fight this season, but both have been recruited to play a crucial team role in supporting the championship campaigns of their teammates.

In Turkey they starred, and time will tell whether they did so decisively.

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