By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Valtteri Bottas has what it takes to succeed with Formula One champions Mercedes but he will also have to show next season that he deserves to be there, according to team boss Toto Wolff.
The Finn failed to win a grand prix this year and ended up fifth overall while British team mate Lewis Hamilton took 11 wins and became only the third driver to win five world championships.
“Every racing driver in a Formula One car has to look over his shoulder. It is a very brutal sport where only the best ones survive and they are very well aware,” Wolff told Reuters.
“They have made the selection of the top 20 racing drivers in the world and every single year they have to justify that they deserve the place. It is not only valid for Valtteri but all the others as well.”
Mercedes have 22-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon as their reserve driver for 2019 after he lost his race seat at Force India, now renamed Racing Point, to Canadian Lance Stroll.
Wolff said last month that Ocon would be doing simulator work and some testing to be ready to return to racing in 2020. Whether that is with Mercedes, or another team using the same engines, remains to be seen.
Bottas said at the end of the season that he just wanted to go home, recharge and come back strong again next year. Wolff expected the 29-year-old to do that.
“Valtteri is a fierce warrior and he wouldn’t be where he is today if he was not an outstanding racing driver. I think he absolutely embraces the challenge of being team mate and competitor to Lewis Hamilton,” said the Austrian.
“I think where things have gone wrong with Valtteri in 2018 was that he was very unlucky. He could have, should have — but that doesn’t count — won three races.”
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku was a big blow, with Bottas robbed of victory by a puncture three laps from the end. Had he won there, instead of Hamilton, he would have led the championship.
Once he was no longer in contention for the title he then had to help Hamilton win, never an easy situation for a team mate.
“I think within any racing driver there’s a certain mental setback that happens. And it happened to Valtteri and he will work on it over the winter and will start the season fresh,” said Wolff.
“All points go back to zero and he has the same opportunity like he has in the last year to win the driver’s title. He certainly has the talent and the intelligence.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)