Valtteri Bottas’ 2021 campaign epitomised why Mercedes was right, but also wrong to replace him with George Russell.
A more competitive Red Bull package in the hands of Max Verstappen always meant it was likely to revert to a 2017/2018 dynamic for Bottas with him responsible for supporting teammate Lewis Hamilton’s title bid.
Like every year, Mercedes gave both drivers equal opportunity to contend for the title but a tricky-handling W12 car, combined with some misfortune, meant Bottas was never a serious factor at the top of the standings.
With Verstappen and Hamilton reaching new heights in terms of performance, Bottas had to settle for three third-places in the opening four rounds of the season, which included a first pole position of the year at Portimao.
The problem for Bottas was that the Russell factor remained and the lingering memories of the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix where he was comprehensively out-performed by the young Brit.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the season - outside of the title battle - Bottas and Russell came to blows at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Despite having the pace to contend for pole position, difficulties in getting the W12 and its tyres into the right window in Q3 left him eighth on the grid, and with the race being wet, Bottas struggled.
Even though the incident itself was arguably Russell’s fault, the pressure was on Bottas more than ever given he was about to be overtaken by a Williams - the ninth quickest car at the time - by the man who was favourite to take his drive for 2022.
Bottas’ form in the first half of the season was patchy but in typical fashion, incredibly unlucky.
The Finn completely outclassed Hamilton in Monaco as he challenged for pole and was on course for a podium before a stuck wheel nut forced him to retire.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was arguably Bottas’ worst weekend as a Mercedes driver as he finished outside the points on merit, while Red Bull counterpart Sergio Perez took his first-ever victory for the team, showing it was going to be a serious threat in both championships.
Bottas’ future with the team was an ever-present talking point and the writing was on the wall for him after the aforementioned incident with Russell. But his refusal to move out of the way for Hamilton in Barcelona in a speedy manner and his vocal criticism of Mercedes at Paul Ricard for not following his strategy suggestion was unusual.
While his form in the first half of the year was respectable with six podiums before the summer break - Perez just had two to his name at this point - the form of Russell couldn’t be ignored as he scored his first points and podium as a Williams driver.
Even if it wasn’t confirmed by that point, the tipping point was surely at the Hungarian Grand Prix where Bottas misjudged the start and smashed into the back of Lando Norris, ending their races but also ruining the two Red Bulls' afternoon.
While it aided Hamilton and Mercedes’ title bids, it was an amateur mistake from the under-pressure Finn.
The news finally broke ahead of the Italian Grand Prix with Mercedes showing its class by allowing Bottas to announce his switch to Alfa Romeo 24 hours before confirming Russell.
Bottas’ future was sorted. He finally had a long term deal in his back pocket and with nothing to lose, we saw some of his greatest F1 performances in the second half of the campaign.
Bottas’ upturn in form after signing his multi-year deal was impressive with three pole positions in four races, including career-best performances in Monza and Turkey.
Starting from the back of the grid after winning the Monza sprint, Bottas stormed through the field to finish second, while a year on from his torrid race at Istanbul Park - where he spun six times and was lapped by his teammate - Bottas dominated from pole position to win his first race of the year, taking crucial points off Verstappen.
Even with engine penalties at three rounds in the second half of the season, Bottas sealed third in the drivers’ championship ahead of Perez with a race to spare.
While Bottas’ speed and consistent run of performances, particularly in qualifying, ensured Mercedes beat Red Bull to the constructors’ championship, his inability to deal with traffic or put up a stern defence against Verstappen - in the way Perez did on numerous occasions against the lead Mercedes - left Hamilton alone when he needed his ‘best ever teammate’ the most.
Bottas’ 2021 campaign ultimately summed up his five-year tenure with Mercedes.
Incredibly quick on his day, extremely likeable, but that’s not enough when you’re up against titans like Hamilton and Verstappen.
Come back tomorrow to find out who sits at #9 on our list.