F1 2019 Preview: Valtteri Bottas facing an unenviable position at Mercedes

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Of the top six drivers on the Formula 1 grid, no-one is facing as much pressure as Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas to begin the 2019 season.

Without a win last year and finishing 161 points behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, it's quite possible the Finn might not have got the additional year on his contract had it not been for sympathy at his terrible luck.

What is for sure though, is he wouldn't be lining up in silver if Mercedes had known in July that Esteban Ocon would be sat in the garage as reserve driver, having lost his place on the grid to Lance Stroll.

As it is, Bottas now faces a crucial year for his F1 future, but with the German manufacturer's answer to Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen on standby, can he really do anything to persuade them to keep him?

The official line from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is Valtteri needs to push Hamilton much harder than he did last year to remain in the conversation to retain his seat.

So far in pre-season, the signs haven't been great that he will suddenly be a match for the Briton at every race, and some are even wondering if he'll complete the year with the team

The question is though, what would Mercedes consider close enough to Lewis? Would it be measured in lap time, for example, staying within 0.3s in qualifying? Or the points difference at the end of the championship?

Then there's the matter of whether Bottas will continue in his 'wingman' role and would Mercedes want him challenging Hamilton so much that he risks taking points away from his teammate?

If the answer is no, that would distort both criteria mentioned. Bottas would have to give up points for the final drivers' standings which in turn impacts his confidence and, therefore, performance, just as it did last year.

We know Bottas is more than capable of producing the goods, look back at how he started 2018 when he could have won in Bahrain, China and certainly Baku with a little more determination and a lot more luck.

If every race was in Sochi, he'd probably be world champion by a country mile, so really it is just about finding that place which allows him to replicate that pace everywhere.

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Most believe that would come by showing more selfishness, but that offers another interesting conundrum for Mercedes because it could bring results, but might also risk a repeat of Hamilton & Nico Rosberg, particularly if Lewis began losing out.

Ultimately, much of that is just talk as the real decider will be how Ocon's future shakes up.

Mercedes must find him a seat for 2020 and doing that elsewhere would make Bottas' situation much easier.

If it gets to the business end of the year and his situation is still uncertain, then comes the pressure to install him regardless of Bottas because the Frenchman is considered the long-term future of the team.

And if Valtteri was to find himself without a seat for next year, it is very hard to see an alternative which would bring him back to the level he is at now.

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