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Bottas won't win F1 title, but he'll probably decide who does

Written by  Jul 10, 2017

On Sunday, Valtteri Bottas brought himself firmly back into contention for the 2017 Formula 1 title, claiming his second win of the season and his career at the Austrian Grand Prix.

It was a performance that once again highlighted how Mercedes got it right in choosing the Finn to replace world champion Nico Rosberg because when Lewis Hamilton was out of the picture, this time due to a five-place grid penalty, he was able to step up and beat Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari.

Even non-executive chairman Niki Lauda acknowledged the importance of his result, telling Sky Sports afterwards: "Valtteri saved us really because to beat Vettel in this close race, it was only him."

Much like after his first win back in Sochi, many believe this could be a turning point that allows Bottas to be the 'other guy' in the championship fight, slowly staying in touch as the focus remains on the two heavyweights.

Two second's and a win since Monaco have seen Bottas gain 19 points on leader Vettel with the gap between them now 35 points approaching the halfway point. The former Williams driver is also just 15 behind team-mate Hamilton too, but does he really have a realistic chance of the title?

Frankly, it's still hard to imagine it despite his win at Spielberg, it would seem likely the ex-GP3 champion would need the recent troubles for Vettel and Hamilton to continue if he wants to close the gap.

With 11 races to go, it's also likely that as the pressure builds, the experience of Hamilton and Vettel will tell as they take it to another level, much like we saw in their qualifying battle in Canada which left Bottas and Raikkonen trailing in their dust.

It's not to say that Bottas isn't capable, but we saw how long and how much effort and luck Rosberg needed to get the job done over Lewis, to produce and have that to beat Lewis and Sebastian in similar machinery would be even more staggering.

What Bottas will very likely do, however, is determining who does come out on top after the finale in Abu Dhabi.

Already it could be suggested that if Hamilton was to win the title by less than 14 points, the ability of Bottas to hold Vettel behind under huge pressure to claim his two wins was crucial.

But each time the Finn can finish between Hamilton and Vettel or simply take points off one of them, it'll be either Hamilton or the four-time world champion left smiling.

It likely won't just be one-way traffic either in terms of only Hamilton benefitting. Sure it's more likely if Mercedes play the team game, which they have already done several times this year, but the longer Valtteri can consider himself a part of the championship battle, there could well be times he does take points off his team-mate because there was nothing Toto Wolff and Co. could do.

What would sway it heavily in Hamilton's favour, however, is if the development of the Mercedes later in the year starts to see a wider gap emerge between them and Ferrari. That way there could be a greater margin for error for Bottas to perhaps not be as quick as Lewis but still finish second, as was the case in Canada.

At the end of all this, Bottas still has plenty to gain even if it wasn't the championship. With every strong result he achieves, regardless of who it affects in the title race, it becomes increasingly harder for the Brackley team to say no to giving him another year on his contract. Helping Mercedes to secure a fourth consecutive Constructors' crown would be another excellent way to do that.

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