Bottas’ attempt to rescue his F1 season off to a bad start

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP)If Valtteri Bottas wants to turn around his below-par season while his future at Mercedes is in doubt, Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix on a track that suits him seems a good starting point.

However, the Finnish driver’s Formula One weekend began with yet another disappointment on Friday. He was handed a three-place grid penalty and two penalty points for a rare pitlane incident in the second practice.

After a tire change, Bottas tried to leave in second gear but lost control of his Mercedes because of extra wheel spin. The car spun but Bottas managed to steer clear of a group of McLaren mechanics in front of the next box.

During the first practice, Bottas showed glimpses of his best racing when he clocked the fastest times in the first two sections, before exceeding the track limits in the final corner which made his lap time invalid.

The mishaps reflect his season so far.

A combination of his own mistakes, poor strategy calls by the team, and sheer bad luck has left Bottas in fifth place in the drivers’ standings with 59 points, fewer than half of teammate Lewis Hamilton’s tally of 119, and 72 points behind the leader, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

The Finn has failed to land a top-two finish in the first seven races of 2021, his worst start to a season since joining Mercedes in 2017.

Bottas’ only previous campaign for his current team without a win at this stage of the championship was 2018, though he racked up four second places by then.

The situation is worrying Mercedes, which is yet to make a choice for next season between Bottas and Williams driver George Russell for the second position next to Hamilton.

While Mercedes has opened talks with seven-time champion Hamilton to extend his contract, Bottas is being kept in the waiting seat.

”When I speak to Valtteri, it’s open, when I speak to George, it’s very much open, because I don’t want to have any hidden agendas,” team principal Toto Wolff said on Friday, before the second practice.

”We need to evaluate the situation. Valtteri had some really good weekends but he also had some off weekends and we just need to minimize those. And then we will take a decision.”

The uncertainty for 2022 is ”not a new situation for me,” Bottas said.

”Everyone knows how this sport works: If you make results, you will earn a (seat). If you don’t make results, if the team feels they need to change the driver, then they change the driver. It’s very simple in this sport.”

At least Bottas has the backing of Hamilton, who called him ”a fantastic teammate. I don’t necessarily see that needs to change.”

Known for his laid-back style, Bottas briefly lost his temper at the French GP last week, shouting several expletives over the team radio as he disagreed with Mercedes’ one-stop strategy for that race.

A few days later, Bottas said his outburst was not a sign of tension between him and the team.

”There is no issues. Those kind of situations, they are normal,” he said. ”We are not in a tea party, we are in an elite top sport. I want to do well and I want the team to do well, so there’s emotions.”

A glimmer of hope for Bottas is the doubleheader in the Austrian Alps this and next weekend as the Red Bull Ring is a track that suits him.

”It’s a place that I really enjoy. I remember, seven years ago, I had my first ever F1 podium here with Williams and I’ve won it a couple of times and normally being always up there,” said Bottas, who won the Austrian GP in 2017 and again last year.

”So, I am confident coming into this weekend. I see no reason why, personally, I shouldn’t be strong. So that’s my mindset.”

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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