Niall McCague makes a case for why Valtteri Bottas can count himself unlucky at not being involved in the F1 title race
The Finn qualified on the front row in Austria and, despite a slow start, pulled his way back to second only to have to retire after 13 laps due to mechanical failure.
It is unlikely Bottas would have had enjoyed a Hollywood ending in Spielberg, especially if both Mercedes cars remained in the race, but if things had gone his way he could certainly have been at the sharp end of the championship alongside his teammate.
As a result of his retirement, that’s potentially 24 points lost in two weeks – after being taken out by Vettel at the first corner in France last week when he qualified on the front row at Paul Ricard.
“The luck I’m having this year feels like a bit of a bad joke,” Bottas said after the race in Austria on Sunday.
“My start was not ideal – I had quite a bit of wheel spin, and there was less grip than we expected so I dropped a few places. Going into Turn 3 I could recover two places and was back in second place.
“After that, the car felt strong, we were running well, but then I suddenly experienced a loss of hydraulic pressure.”
The 28-year-old is now sixth in the drivers’ standings on 92 points, a place where he doesn’t deserve to be, with title leader Vettel 54 points ahead and Hamilton one point behind the German.
Since hitting a wall in qualifying in Melbourne, the Monaco resident has been superb and has gone on to qualify second or third in nearly every race this season, except Monaco where his lack of pace saw him start from fifth on the grid.
In Bahrain, he missed out on overtaking Vettel on the last lap – where he perhaps showed too much caution and effectively bottled his chance of victory, with stronger tyres over the German’s faded rubber.
But it was in Shanghai and Baku where his misfortune cost him valuable points.
In China, Mercedes’ poor decision-making on not pitting during the safety car saw Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – on fresher tyres – come from nowhere to snatch a remarkable victory from Bottas, who was leading up until lap 45.
Two weeks later in Azerbaijan, he led again after a safety car, but with three laps remaining sustained a puncture from running over debris and lost what looked like a guaranteed 25 points – and first victory of the season.
If luck was on his side in Baku, Bahrain and Shanghai, it could have been the former Williams man sitting alongside Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the standings.
Although he lacks the killer-instinct of both men in those pressurised situations – often the tipping point between winning and losing – he is clearly one of the most talented drivers on the circuit.
But for all his setbacks this season, Bottas has done enough to be retained by Mercedes in 2019, given his four podium finishes and positive relationship with Hamilton.
The gap may be lengthy when you look at the title standings in reality, but the Finn – for all his bad luck – must be left wondering if he will ever be able to reach the rarefied air shared by Vettel and Hamilton.