Formula One fans worldwide sat in utter disbelief last night as they watched Mercedes AMG Petronas No.2 Valtteri Bottas pull into the pits, running P2, forced to retire because of a machined wheel nut. Bottas boxed on lap 31 to have his soft tyres replaced with the hard compound, setting him up for the rest of the race, however the front right wheel couldn’t be removed. Mercedes explained afterwards that the wheel nut had “machined onto the axle” preventing it from being removed during the pit stop, forcing Bottas into retirement. Such bizarre moments in sport can really only be comprehended watching live, as the commentary reacts and then attempts to demystify the events, often as dumbfounded as those watching at home.
As I sat there watching what seemed to be all too familiar for Valtteri, I thought to myself, ‘this would never happen to Lewis.’
When Lewis Hamilton took P1 at the Bahrain Grand Prix in March, my first words on Monday in the office were – “fuck he’s good.” Yes, his Bahrain race was a combination of impeccable steering and pit stop strategy, and yes, he’s had the most competitive car and is backed by the team with the most money, but so is Valtteri Bottas. The difference isn’t just the ice in Lewis’s veins on race day (and possibly some No.1 driver prioritised strategy), it’s also a healthy dose of luck or good fortune.
11 time world surfing champion Kelly Slater has always attributed his ability too will the waves he needs to claiming those clutch victories, and overall success in the world championship race. Sure, he still needs to register a fantastic score on the waves that come, but the other guys don’t even get the chance, because the waves simply don’t appear for anyone but Kelly when they need to. Luck is real and Kelly has never downplayed it.
While Valtteri Bottas has benefitted from Lewis Hamilton’s mistakes in the past – notably his race win in Sochi last year after Lewis was handed a 10s penalty for a pair of practice start infringements – it’s his bad luck that has marred his career time and time again. It only dawned on me to investigate it further after his retirement yesterday when Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle mentioned that Lewis has only recorded one DNF in 86 races.
Since 2017, Valtteri Bottas has recorded 8 DNFs (Did Not Finish) opposed to Lewis Hamilton’s 1. Only his Hockenheim crash, in the wet, in 2019 can truly be attributed to driver error – his crash with Russell at Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the start of this season was also contentious. The other 6 DNFs were all mechanical issues or anomalies – only one of which affected Lewis.
Between the unfortunate Russell crash and bizarre wheel nut, Valtteri Bottas has recorded 2 DNFs out of 5 races so far in 2021 – not exactly a world championship contending start. In 2020, Bottas qualified in P1 at Eiffel, only to lose the race lead to Lewis after a lock up, before being forced to retire due to engine failure on lap 19. Lewis went on to win the race.
On that miserable day at Hockenheim in 2019 – captured in depth on Netflix’s Drive To Survive, much to Toto’s chagrin – Bottas was pushing too hard on lap 57 and spun the car into the barriers, shortly after Lewis almost met the same fate. Nothing but driver error was to blame.
In 2019, 2018 and 2017, all of Valtteri’s DNFs were out of his control – with only one of those issues affecting his teammate. In Brazil 2019, Bottas arrived in Brazil on the back of a strong victory in Mexico, but could only manage to qualify 5th. In the race, he aborted a one-stop strategy and then ultimately retired when his engine switched itself off due to a ‘Control Electronics’ issue, on lap 53. On the other hand, Lewis while in a fight for P2, emerged unscathed after colliding with and spinning Albon, but was given a 5 second penalty for his error, finishing 7th.
In 2018, Valtteri Bottas qualified 3rd in Azerbaijan before suffering one of the “biggest disappointments in his career.” Leading with race with three laps to go he hit a piece of debris which punctured a tyre, forcing him to retire. Suffice to say, it would have made Lewis’s nail biting British Grand Prix win in 2020, even harder to watch – somehow nursing an obliterated tyre over the line, with Max Verstappen breathing down his neck. Again, such good fortune would only happen to Lewis.
Months later at the Austrian Grand Prix, where he’d won the year before, Valtteri Bottas qualified P1 but retired on lap 14 with a hydraulic problem linked to the steering. It was a horror race for the Silver Arrows, with Hamilton also recording his one and only DNF in 5 seasons, grinding to a halt on lap 63 with a drop in pressure in the fuel system. Finally in 2017, after qualifying 3rd in Spain, Bottas hit the brakes early into turn one pushing Kimi Räikkönen into the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, causing both to retire. Bottas succumbed to one of the best overtakes of the season from Vettel, before his old engine, that was swapped in for the new one (which sprung a leak the day before), gave up on lap 39.
I’m not going to discredit Lewis as a driver, he is a deserving 7 time world champion who is unbeatable on his day, but I will say that the existence of luck, be it in sport or in business, also shouldn’t be discredited. Unfortunately for the “cursed” (as Mercedes AMG Petronas boss Toto put it) Valtteri Bottas, good fortune rarely trumps bad luck and we saw another unbelievable example during his pit stop at the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend. Interestingly, it wasn’t Valtteri Bottas losing his shit over the team radio while this unfolded, it was Lewis Hamilton whingeing about poor strategy.