Valtteri Bottas’s promotion from test driver to race driver comes as little surprise, with his 2013 seat almost confirmed from the moment it was announced that he would take part in fifteen 2012 practice sessions. It also came as little surprise that it was Bruno Senna who was the man to make way for Bottas, with Maldonado’s superior outright speed and PDVSA sponsorship securing him a third successive season with the Grove based team.
Bottas is already integrated within the Williams team. He joined as their test driver at the start of 2010 and has even helped the team set-up and pack up from a race weekend. Although Bottas will undoubtedly suffer the pitfalls of a rookie season, he is perhaps one of the highest rated youngsters to join the sport in recent years.
Sir Frank Williams, who has worked with the likes of Nigel Mansell, Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button said that “Valtteri is quite simply one of the most talented young racing drivers I have come across”. High praise indeed for the 2011 GP3 champion.
The impact of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in 2007 has raised the bar for F1 rookies and if Bottas’s season gets off to a rocky start, the pressure will mount. But everything seen of Bottas so far suggests he has what it takes to have a long career in the sport; he didn’t throw it off the road in any of his practice sessions and Williams were sufficiently impressed to give Bottas a drive in 2013, ahead of the more experienced and well-funded Senna.
Although 2013 will be a different kettle of fish to 2012, the stability of the rules means that Williams has a good platform on which to build. The FW34 was a vast improvement on the unloved FW33 and although the car won in the hands of Maldonado in Spain, there’s the impression that the team should have scored a bagful more points than they actually did, a failure largely pinned down to the drivers.
The outgoing Senna was gracious in his departure from the team and does have options for 2013. But like with the end of every F1 season, there are several other talented drivers vying for seats, including Jaime Alguersuari, Kamui Kobayashi, Heikki Kovalainen, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil. BBC pundit Eddie Jordan suggested after the Brazilian Grand Prix that Caterham was a likely destination for Senna, assuming that the Brazilian’s vast array of sponsors would be willing to stump up the finances for another season. After a stuttering start to his F1 career with HRT and Renault, Senna showed himself to be a competent points scorer in 2012 but lacking in qualifying pace – he made Q3 only once – which left him playing a game of catch up in races and frequently involved in the opening lap collisions that are present in the midfield.
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