After seven races of the 2013 season, none of the seven rookies have scored a point. They are all lumbered with uncompetitive machinery; only Esteban Gutierrez has a team-mate with points on the board and even then Nico Hulkenberg only has a paltry five points to shout about. But one rookie did make an impression in Canada.
Valtteri Bottas’s starring run to Q3 was already a highlight of qualifying. The Finn was fourth fastest in Q1 and Q2, before timing his run in the final segment of qualifying to perfection and securing a place on the second row of the grid. It wasn’t a fluke performance, for Bottas was consistently competitive throughout the damp qualifying hour. Bottas’s laps in Canada may have grabbed the headlines, but it shouldn’t have come as a complete shock as the Finn has enjoyed a measured, if fruitless start to his Formula 1 career.
There were whispers in 2012 that even in his practice runs, Bottas was showing stronger pace than team-mates Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna. So far this year, 23 year old Bottas has put Maldonado in the shade in qualifying as the Finn leads 5-2. For all of his flaws, Maldonado is an extremely rapid qualifier, having shadowed Rubens Barrichello in 2011 and annihilated Senna last season. Only in China, where Bottas was caught out by windy conditions and pushed too hard, has Williams’s rookie truly erred. On pure pace alone, Bottas has already demonstrated his ability.
The races have shown a similar mature trend. Bottas has finished every race and has shown comparable pace to Maldonado. Both drivers have been limited by the flawed FW35, but it was Bottas who came closest to scoring points in tricky conditions in Malaysia. While team-mate Maldonado and other rookies have made mistakes, Bottas has stayed out of trouble to record seven straight finishes. Prior to the start of the year, Sir Frank Williams emphasised that Bottas was “quite simply one of the most talented young racing drivers I have come across.” High praise indeed when you reflect at the talent that has graced Sir Frank’s eponymous machines.
After the opening seven races, Williams remains positive about his young charger.
“He clearly has magnificent car control and that's fundamental for F1. He's also very quiet and that means he's not talking too much. And if he's not talking too much that's because he's listening and he's listening to some very good advice.”
Bottas took his opportunity to shine in Canada but despite his performance he remained grounded, instead emphasising how it was a morale boost for the team. Never has a ‘points aren’t awarded for qualifying’ comment been so accurate as Bottas admirably clung on to a top ten result early on but was simply usurped by drivers in more competitive machinery. It was an inevitable slump and highlighted the flaws of the FW35 in dry conditions. But for Bottas, the point had already been made.
"I think Canada was good for me in that I was able to show my skills," he said. "It is not so easy to see what you are doing when you are fifteenth. Hopefully I have shown that I really deserve my place."
Rival teams will be keeping an eye on the young Finn.