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Valtteri Bottas: A perfect fit for Ferrari?

From start to Finnish - we analyse why Bottas looks likely to replace his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the 2016 Formula One season.

Bottas (L) and Raikkonen earlier this year the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai

The Finn has been flying for the past two years, and his performance only seems to have stepped up from last year, his first with the newly rechristened, revamped Williams-Martini team. He has had a brilliant year so far, finishing 7 of the 9 races so far in the top 5.

Bottas made his Formula 1 debut with Williams in 2012, and is contracted to remain to the United Kingdom-based team until the end of this year. He only hit his stride last year, however, winning his career-first F1 podium at Austria in 2014, with things only looking up for him since.

He finished that year 4th in the standings – ahead of several former World Champions – most notably four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and two-time champ Fernando Alonso, who has been having an extreme slump in his career following a move to McLaren-Honda earlier this year after vacating his seat at Scuderia Ferrari, a seat that was incidentally filled by Vettel.

Although the 25-year-old has only had one podium this year, he has shown immense promise. His single podium so far came at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, where he beat Vettel to take third. 

At the British Grand Prix, which concluded yesterday, the Williams pair seriously challenged Mercedes for the top two spots – Massa in the lead and Bottas following right behind. One of the major reasons for their loss was Williams’ strategy, which left both drivers an insurmountable lead that they were eventually unable to make up. Bottas looked strong enough in several sectors to overtake teammate Massa, who had then been in the lead. 

Williams’ pit strategy also enabled Hamilton to take the lead, helped along by near-perfect pit strategy by the winner’s own team, Mercedes. Bottas went on to finish the race in 5th, but has no doubt left an impression on viewers with his talent. 

The Formula 1 world has been rife with speculation that Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari will be replaced at the end of this season. His contract, admits team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, has yet to be renewed – this was done, according to him, to exert psychological pressure on Raikkonen – a statement he made early on this Formula One season. This seems to have backfired, however. Although the Finn has finished well in nearly every race this year, he has been audibly unhappy with the crew, and appears to feel stifled by the team. 

Earlier this month, Sergio Marchionne, chairman of Ferrari, said Raikkonen’s place on the team was largely dependent on himself – although he did not express if this solely meant his performance, or his changing attitudes towards the team. Considering that Raikkonen’s contract is yet to be renewed and there is no mention of talks regarding this halfway through the Formula One season, it may be likely he will be replaced. 

Among the names mentioned as a possible replacement for Raikkonen was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. The Australian driver addressed these rumours earlier last week, saying he was “flattered by the attention from Ferrari”, but his contract with the Austrian team ran through to 2018, and he looked positively towards the future following a dismal showing by Red Bull this year.

The team has gone through a turbulent season as well, repeatedly expressing their unhappiness with engine supplier Renault, whose parts have been giving Red Bull and sister team Toro Rosso repeated trouble all year. Fervent speculation led people to believe Audi were in talks with the team to supply their engines, but these rumours were quickly rubbished by all parties involved. 

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was also mentioned as one of the probables for a vacant Ferrari seat, but rumours from within Ferrari indicated that the team “did not want two German drivers”. Hulkenberg has been having a good season so far, and midway through the racing season, the driver also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance racing championship. The German has had a better showing at the races this year so far than his teammate Sergio Perez, but the two have raced strongly enough this year that Force India are currently at 5th in the constructors’ championships. 

Bottas was interviewed by several press agencies prior to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and in each of these mentioned he had not had any form of conversation with officials at Ferrari, but confirmed that he would be a free agent at the end of the 2015 racing season. 

Williams have indicated they would like to keep Bottas on their roster – and with good reason. Bottas has expressed loyalty to the team as well, but it is possible given the prestige historically associated with racing for Ferrari and the possible monetary reward involved that he may transfer to the stables of the Prancing Horse instead. 

Only time will indicate now whether Bottas will replace his compatriot Raikkonen and become the new Iceman. 

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