BusyFormula #003: Is Valtteri Bottas the unluckiest driver on the F1 grid?

On a weekend where Mercedes were soundly beaten by their rivals at Red Bull, Mclaren, and Ferrari, it was still Valteri Bottas that carried the brunt of the World Champions’ misfortune. This has become a trend with Valteri going back to his early days with Mercedes.

After qualifying in 3rd place behind Max Verstappen and pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, things were looking good for Bottas.

With his teammate Lewis qualifying seventh at a track notorious for hardships in overtaking, Valteri looked set to finish the race ahead of his teammate for the first time this season.

Things even got better when Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari broke down due to a driveshaft problem on the lap to the grid, meaning while Valteri would still slot into third place at the start, it was a net second place since the only car ahead of him was Max Verstappen’s Redbull.

That was as good as Valteri’s weekend would get however, as what happened was one of the unluckiest things I have seen happen to a driver in my thirteen years as a Formula1 fan.

The pit stop from hell

Valteri got off the line well at the start of the race and would probably have moved into first place out of the first corner if Max hadn’t moved over to cover him on the run down to Turn 1.

Failing to find a way past Max, he slotted into P2 behind the Red Bull and kept within about three seconds of Max for most of the first stint. It was when he came in for his pit stop on Lap 31 that catastrophe struck.

During the pit stop, the right front tire failed to come off due to the wheel gun machining the nut. This meant that the gun couldn’t get any purchase on the nut to take the wheel off.

After what felt like an eternity of trying to get the nut off, at one point even bringing in the backup wheel gun, the team decided to retire the car along with Valteri’s hopes of tasting champagne on Sunday.

This incident in isolation would be easier to accept if it had been an isolated incident. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t even the first time that Valteri had a slow pit stop this season because of a machined nut on the right front tire.

At the season opener in Bahrain, Bottas had an 11 second pit stop because of the same issue.

However, unlike in Monaco, the pit crew managed to get the tire off and send him back out again without losing any places since he had a comfortable gap to Lando Norris in fourth.

Bottas’ long run of bad luck  

Bottas’ run of bad luck goes far back before this season to as early as Azerbaijan 2018, when he ran over debris while comfortably leading the race. This puncture forced him to retire from the race and hand the win to his teammate, the almost always lucky Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas’ lousy luck wouldn’t end there, unfortunately. In 2019, he was pitted from the lead at the British Grand Prix, and he looked set to win the race till Antonio Giovanazzi lost dumped his car in the gravel trap bringing out the Safety Car.

The Safety Car gave Hamilton a free stop which enabled him to stop for tires and still emerge in first place ahead of Bottas. That isn’t all, however.

In 2020 Valteri had perhaps one of the unluckiest seasons of his career. After being forced to pit both cars early due to an early Safety Car at Silverstone, both Silver Arrows had to put in a long stint on the hard tires to go to the end of the race.

However, Bottas suffered a puncture with three laps to go, which made him limp back to the pits and eventually finish out of the points in eleventh.

By contract, Hamilton suffered his tire failure in that race on the last lap and still managed to drag the car to the finish line and take the race win, albeit on three tires.

During the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, where he had qualified on pole, Bottas still couldn’t finish the race as a power unit failure forced him to retire the car. As if that was not enough, he would then go on to run over debris left by Vettel’s Ferrari on F1’s return to Imola.

He was leading the race comfortably at the time and handed yet another race win to his teammate, which only increased the gap at the top of the World Championship standings.

The icing on this bad luck cake was served in Bahrain later on in 2020, where Bottas pitted only to find the Mercedes crew had put his tires on George Russell’s car.

George was standing in for Lewis Hamilton, who was out with COVID-19 that weekend. This mistake dropped him down to eighth place and capped off a season to forget for the Finn.

All this bad luck is not good for a man fighting for his seat in Mercedes and possibly in F1.

Whatever the reason for the persistent bad luck, Bottas needs his luck to turn around soon, or he will have to surrender his seat to Mercedes young gun George Russell.

Julius Kakwenzire is a self-confessed F1 addict. When he’s not getting emotional at the race track’s proceedings, he’s working on great fintech products at Lupiiya.