Lewis Hamilton clinched the Formula One Drivers’ Championship for the third season on the bounce for Mercedes, highlighting his dominance of the sport. It will not be easy for the rest of the drivers to watch the Brit continue to win crown after crown – even more so for his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, but it has still not been good enough to compete with Hamilton in a battle to the bitter end for the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton’s dominance shows no signs of stopping, being backed in the latest F1 odds at 4/7 to win the crown for a record-equalling seventh time.
Bottas’ career appears to be following the trajectory of a famous son of Northern Ireland. Eddie Irvine was forced to play second fiddle to the great Michael Schumacher for four seasons at Ferrari. Irvine was a fine driver in his own right and had the opportunity to make an impact at the top of the sport.
He arrived in the 1996 campaign to support Schumacher after a solid season with Peugeot. However, the Northern Irishman endured a miserable term, which included a run of eight-straight retirements. Irvine finished 10th in the standings, mustering only 11 points over the course of the season, the majority of which came from the opening race in Australia when he placed in third.
The way it was, 1999 Austria GP,
Mr Eddie Irvine and Ferrari F399. pic.twitter.com/mDrWTDdZfm
— kaneko hiroshi (@kaneko928) December 26, 2017
The next campaign would bring an improvement for Irvine. He made a breakthrough in Argentina to place second on the podium behind Jacques Villeneuve and backed up those efforts with four more third-place finishes. It was enough progression to move into seventh place in the overall standings, proving that he was more than worth his place on Ferrari’s roster.
Ferrari enjoyed a fierce battle in the 1998 season with Williams for both the Drivers and Constructors’ Championships. Irvine produced quality drives early in the campaign in Argentina, San Marino, Monaco, Canada and France put him in contention for the crown. However, he lost momentum in the second half of the term before mustering a late rally with second-place finishes in Italy and Japan. Irvine finished in fourth place in the standings, but he and Schumacher were unable to disrupt Williams’ dominance at the top.
The 1999 season was the make-or-break season for Irvine. He made the best possible start to the term by recording his maiden triumph after 82 races, earning the top spot on the podium at the Australian Grand Prix. Further podiums at Monaco and the British Grand Prix kept him on course, while back-to-back triumphs in Austria and Germany put Irvine in the box seat for the crown. Schumacher’s injury left a potential path clear for glory, although defending champion Mika Hakkinen would make life difficult.
Eddie Irvine (Ferrari) held off David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) to take his second GP win and close to within 2 points of championship leader Mika Hakkinen. Austrian GP, A1-Ring, 25th July 1999. #F1 pic.twitter.com/MZthCa7Ef4
— F1 in the 1990s 🚦🏎🏁🏆🍾 (@1990sF1) July 25, 2018
The Northern Irishman put himself on the brink with his fourth win of the campaign in Malaysia, holding a lead of four points over Hakkinen. Irvine only needed to better the Finn’s performance to secure the title, but an underwhelming qualifying period put him under pressure. The race fell perfectly for Hakkinen, and he was able to outpace Schumacher and Irving to snatch the win. Irvine finished third, but it was not good enough, losing out on the title by two points to his rival.
Like Irvine, Bottas has made gradual improvements over the course of his career with Mercedes. He could be in line for a real run at the Drivers’ Championship in 2020, but he must heed the warnings of Irvine, who missed his opportunity and never had another chance at glory.