Former Formula 1 driver Perry McCarthy has said he believes that new Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas is better than many F1 fans give him credit for, and listed other drivers he enjoys watching.
Bottas spent five years partnering Sir Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, and often found himself playing a support role for the Briton as he won the world title in four of the five seasons they spent together as team-mates.
The Finn found himself out-qualified 72 times in 100 races by the 36-year-old, and was outscored by an average of over 50 points in the championship in all of the five years.
Hamilton has claimed seven world championships in his illustrious career, and therefore holds the record conjointly with Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver of all time.
His accolades speak for themselves, but McCarthy still finds himself having to stave off opinions from fans that suggest he has only achieved such feats by virtue of having great cars and, in Bottas, a poor team-mate.
“[There are] people out there who just say ‘oh well he’s got the best car plug him in and there you go and he’s up against [Valtteri] Bottas who’s no good, So he’s got it all covered,’” the former Top Gear “The Stig” told Formula1News.co.uk.
“I don’t subscribe to any of that.”
Bottas won 10 of his 101 races at the Silver Arrows, helping Mercedes to five of their record eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships in the process.
He also made the third qualifying session in every grand prix he had with the team.
McCarthy is impressed at the Finn’s ability to persistently compete with one of the greatest of drivers of all-time, but did concede that his race pace can be a weakness.
“But, you know, if you look at the criticism of Valtteri – how many times this last pole position by about two hundredths of a second?” he said.
“I’d say I’d settle for being two hundredths of a second slower than a seven-time world champion around a four-mile track.
“Valtteri Bottas is a brilliantly fast racing driver. Valtteri doesn’t seem to always make the best of a race though, and I think that is the criticism.
“He doesn’t seem to be able to overtake and find overtaking opportunities in the same manner as Max [Verstappen] as an example, or Lewis.”
McCarthy believes Bottas is naturally one of the fastest drivers on the grid, and with the 32-year-old having left Mercedes at the end of 2021, the ex-Stig will be looking on intently at Bottas’ progress with his new Alfa Romeo team.
“But as far as pure speed is concerned, Valtteri is a great benchmark. It’d be great to see how he fares at Alfa Romeo actually,” he added.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris ended the 2021 championship fifth and sixth, respectively, with their teams battling throughout the year for third in the Constructors’ Standings.
Particularly impressive was the fact that they both scored four podiums, as Sainz beat team-mate Charles Leclerc in the standings in his first year with the Scuderia, and Norris defeated more experienced team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who had signed from Renault and the end of 2020.
The 60-year-old looks forward to seeing what the former McLaren partners can achieve in the coming years.
“I think Carlos Sainz did himself a bunch of favours last year, you know, to show how good he is. I think that Lando Norris is incredible. You know, I really, I think he’s an absolute star.”
George Russell will drive for Mercedes this season having signed from Williams to replace Bottas.
He out-qualified Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi all but two of the 59 races he spent with them collectively at the British team, and scored his first podium at the bizarre Belgian Grand Prix last August.
Further, the Briton performed exceptionally when deputising for Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when the seven-time world champion came down with COVID-19.
He led for much of the race, but a tyre mix-up at a pit stop followed by a slow puncture agonisingly took away his maiden victory.
McCarthy is enthused by the prospect of the 23-year-old going up against Hamilton, especially given the new regulations introduced in 2022.
“It’s going to be so interesting to see how George gets on at Mercedes,” he told us.
“You know, we saw with that one off race that he had, he just fitted in straight away.
“All the pressure expectations, and he delivered. You know, it was just so impressive.
“So there’s a number of little stars out there where they’re just waiting for that right moment, and we’ll see if this change in regulations does provide more opportunity for some people you wouldn’t have thought of before.”
Hamilton suffered heartbreak in December when a contentious Safety Car restart by race director Michael Masi facilitated a last lap move from Verstappen to snatch his first championship.
The Briton’s radio silence since – as well as his “we’ll see about next year” comment after the race – has caused suppositions that he will leave F1 over the winter.
McCarthy was asked if Hamilton’s hunger for a record-breaking eighth world title would convince him to stay on but, given the pressure from upcoming talents, he is not altogether convinced.
“I mean, this is the thing. Is there the hunger now?” He queried.
“Because you know what’s coming up. I mean, nobody knows more than Lewis Hamilton, what is ahead of him to work on what is going to be required to go out and beat Max Verstappen, or anybody else where their package is just as good,” he explained.
“So that that’s the burning issue, the two are one and the same. You know, he always talks about, it’s not about the championship – it probably is – but he wants more race wins.
“You know, it’s like any of the top drivers that are built to win. These are machines that only understand wanting to win and being in a position to win.
“But it takes so much work, I think that’s the thing to assess is that we’ll soon see he’s sitting in the car on the first race of the season, he has made that decision.
“But I just wonder, I do wonder if it’s maybe hurt him and if there’s a carryover from that, or if he’s just strong enough to just go, ‘that was then, this is now – reset.’
“And if he’s able to do that, again, that’s incredible. And Max will clearly of course, be looking to, having won the first one, now he’ll be thinking ‘I quite like that. Yeah, I want the second.’”
Mercedes are to unveil the car they hope Hamilton will be in alongside Russell on 18 February, and the new season kicks off on 20 March in Bahrain.
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