As the Formula One season rolls in Shanghai this weekend, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas undoubtedly enter the race with contrasting emotions after their battle during the final laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday.
Vettel will be in buoyant mood, having pushed his soft tyres to the max for 39 laps in an all-round composed performance to take his second win of the season in Sakhir.
But for Bottas, who effectively bottled his chance to victory and make the most of his stronger tyres over the German’s faded rubber, doubts will have resurfaced in his mind.
While Vettel may have provided a defensive masterclass in holding off Bottas’ late attack, it bodes the question as to what the result would have been if it had been Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen on Daniel Ricciardo charging down the Ferrari driver in those final frenetic laps?
The Finn is clearly a talented driver but has so far lacked the killer-instinct in those pressurised situations that can often be the tipping point between winning and losing.
It’s easy to speculate as to what the result would have been otherwise, but as we head to Shanghai, Vettel holds a 17-point cushion at the top of the drivers’ standings after just two rounds.
Bottas – with three race wins in 2017 – may have outpaced his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in qualifying last weekend, but overall, he lacks that zip and aggression to seriously challenge for a world title.
If he had attempted to go on the inside against Vettel on that final lap, could the Finn’s name have been etched on the winner’s trophy last Sunday evening? We’ll never know – but it is in these high-pressure moments you see a driver’s true quality.
The 28-year-old clearly wants to win a world title and has the car at his disposal to get the best out of himself, but at this level, you need a special spark to turn talent into trophies.
Time, this season anyway, is on Bottas’ side. There are still 19 races to go in the season and a lot can change. While he may not have been able to pass Vettel in Bahrain, Bottas proved he has the pace and that will give him confidence ahead of this weekend’s race in China.
Vettel, of course, finds himself in a similar position to last season, in which he looked flawless for the opening rounds of the championship. But he’ll have an extra pep in his step in China knowing the Ferrari is more reliable and competitive this time around.
Quick across the pre-season, the 30-year-old will hope his form over the last three weeks is the building block to a successful season – with Hamilton in the shadows aiming to deny him a fifth world title.
Bottas may just be another challenger in the race between the duo, but he has the chance to make the most of this season in an ultra-fast car, and compete consistently against perhaps two of the greatest drivers of the past decade in Hamilton and Vettel.
The gap between Vettel and Bottas’ cars may have been close as they crossed the line in Bahrain on Sunday, but the Finn will perhaps be left wondering if he will ever be able to reach the levels of the German and his Mercedes team-mate.