Williams Front Row at 2014 Austrian GP Should Not Mask Valtteri Bottas' Failure

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2014

Williams driver Felipe Massa of Brazil, center, Williams driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland, right and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany celebrate after the qualifying for Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix at the Spielberg track, Austria, Saturday, June 21, 2014.   Massa will start from the pole position ahead of Bottas and Rosberg. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

When you're a young driver trying to make your name in Formula One, as Valtteri Bottas of Williams is, the one thing you crave for above all else is opportunity.

Some drivers, such as Jean-Eric Vergne, never get an opportunity.

They trundle around in a car with only an occasional chance of scoring points for a few years before slipping off the radar and being replaced by the next big thing, who more often than not goes on to trundle around in a car with only an occasional chance of scoring points for a few years.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 14:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 14, 2008 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/G
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Other driverslike Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussenfirmly grasp an opportunity with both hands.

They embody the gambles of major institutions and repay that faith within a matter of months, often in spectacular style.

And you have the remaining group of drivers who are presented with a number of opportunities over the course of their careers but never succeed in extracting the most from them.

They have the ability and the potential to win races and perhaps even championships, but due to a mixture of harsh luck and unforced errors, they end their careers cursing what might have been and what should have been.

Opportunities, like most things in Formula One, are decided by small margins.

They can emerge from the most trivial of circumstances, from fitting wet tyres only seconds before a torrential downpour hits the track to joining a midfield team at the exact moment they leap to the front of the grid.

No matter how they appear, there is one aspect that binds each and every single opportunity that appears over a grand prix season: they must all be maximised.

This weekend's Austrian Grand Prix is the eighth race weekend of the campaign—but Bottas has already allowed two golden opportunities to pass him by.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 21:  Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams drives during qualifying ahead of the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 21, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dom Romney/Getty Images)
Dom Romney/Getty Images

The latest, of course, came in Q3 at the Red Bull Ring when the Finnish driver was beaten to pole position by Felipe Massa, his Williams teammate.

Bottas had held a slender lead over the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets after the first runs of the final segment of qualifying and was expected to either cling on to first place or be overwhelmed by the Silver Arrows of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton as the clock ticked towards the end of the session.

However, Hamilton's spin at Turn 2 and Rosberg's failure to string together a lap, as he did in Monaco and Canada previously, opened the widest of doorways for Bottas to secure his first F1 pole position. 

Yet a lock-up at Turn 3 and a trip over the grass tarnished his final effort.

Was it over-excitement that led to Bottas running wide on the exit of Turn 6? Was it the daunting prospect of joining the elite drivers on the grid which made him collapse under pressure? Was he over-driving the Williams in a bid to cement pole position? Was it merely a loss of concentration?

Whatever the reason behind his off-track excursion, the opportunity was passed to Felipe Massa to take Williams' first pole position for more than two years.

The experienced driver made no mistake, with Bottas relegated not only from first to second on the grid, but from a driver outperforming his car to a driver performing within the level of his car, within a matter of seconds.

That a 33-year-old, whose career for the last six years has been on a downward spiral, should beat a 24-year-oldwho should very soon be reaching the peak of his career and is regarded as a future world championreflects poorly on Bottas, even though the margin between the pair was, according to the official F1 website, barely a tenth of a second.

And although Bottas achieved his career-best grid position while completing the first all-Williams front row since 2003 according to the official F1 website, it could have been so much more.

The way that Bottas ultimately failed to receive the reward that his performance arguably deserved in Spielberg carried alarming similarities to how his Australian Grand Prix panned out at the very beginning of the season.

The Finnish driver had worked his way up to sixth within 10 laps after starting the race in 15th at Albert Park and, with the strength of the Mercedes power unit in his car, was set to pass the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg's Force India imminently.

A brush with the wall at Turn 10, however, gave the Williams a puncture and forced Bottas to mount a recovery drive to finish sixth at the chequered flag (which became fifth following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo) on a day when his first podium finish would otherwise have been a certainty.

Shortly after climbing from his car in Melbourne, Bottas was quoted by Sky Sports' William Esler as stating:

I am quite mad at myself for the mistake.

I am not happy about that, but I guess I just need to learn from it and I am pretty sure I am not going to make that kind of mistake again.

Bottas did make that kind of mistake again. And he made it when it mattered most, when the pressure was on and when pole position was up for grabs.

Another opportunity has been squandered. You suspect he won't get many more this season.