Valtteri Bottas secured his first win in Formula 1 last weekend after overcoming the first Ferrari lock-out in nine years. Going into turn two and holding onto the lead, the Finn had seemingly learnt from mistakes made in Bahrain fourteen days beforehand.
The 27-year-old crossed the finish line in Sochi 0.617s ahead of Sebastian Vettel and 36.320s before fellow Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in fourth.
The 25 championship points secured thanks to a near-flawless drive placed the Fin just ten points behind his Mercedes teammate and within a race win of the German leader.
However, Bottas has already shown inconsistency this season—falling from pole in Bahrain to finish third and losing another three places in China where the former Williams man finished sixth.
So is there correlation between this season and the last? Or, is Bottas really in the title chase?
Well, during the first four races of the 2016 campaign Bottas impressed, out-qualifying then-teammate Felipe Massa on three occasions; Bahrain, China and Russia, including a front-row start alongside Nico Rosberg in Sochi.
However, this season seems to be a similar scenario: Bottas has again showed great pace in what seem to be his favoured tracks, but, similar to last year, struggled with the opening race in Australia.
Barcelona again seems to be one that the Finn relishes. The 4.65km circuit was another happy hunting ground for Bottas in 2016 finishing fifth behind both Red Bull and Ferrari after the infamous collision between the Mercedes drivers early on.
However, throughout the remainder of the 2016 campaign, Bottas struggled to match both qualifying and race pace of Williams’ nearest rivals leading to an eighth-placed Drivers’ Championship finish.
The Monaco Grand Prix seemed to be the catalyst for this downfall, with a finish just inside the points which inevitably lead to a fifth-placed Constructors’ Championship finish for Williams—35 points behind Force India.
Using this, you cannot say that Bottas is in the title picture just yet. His downward spiral last season after a promising start showed no evidence that the 27-year-old is able to provide a consistent challenge.
However, if the Finn was to secure similarly impressive qualifying times and results to that of his previous two races, then he may well be considered as the third-horse in a current two-horse race.
Joe Owens, F1 Correspondent