Who here thinks that in the current state of Formula 1, that this season will be another Lewis Hamilton media-enhanced circlejerk? Show of hands, now!

WELL YOU’RE WRONG! Listen folks, I know it’s easy to already call this season a write off, but let me try to convince you that the most important man in Formula 1 this year… Is actually Valtteri Bottas.

See, he’s already somewhat of an unknown quantity as a driver, which is intriguing enough to see how he stacks up against the best driver of this era, but I think Bottas has been unfairly written off by the bookies, the media, and by some of the fans. (5/1 to win the title? In the seemingly best car? Really?!)

Val has done everything he’s been asked for as a driver since being given the Williams seat full-time. Clawed some points in 2013 in America when the team was at its worst. He was the other breakout star of the 2014 season when Daniel Ricciardo took a lot of the credit; but Val was equally as great in the Williams seat, doing a number on a freshly motivated Felipe Massa. He scored a podium last season in Canada, Williams only one of the season, despite the car being nowhere as good as it was two years prior.

Bottas is a victim of circumstance, he’s always been a good to great driver, but the tools around him have dragged him down and hurt his stock. Williams as usual, not having the budget to sustain themselves at the top. Felipe Massa, his yardstick, falling into obscurity as he gets older. Other top tier players continuing to excel themselves, like Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

It’s been a rough couple of years, even more so when you consider the Ferrari seat passed him by as well, Kimi Raikkonen doing enough to justify his big salary. But in any case, he’s delivered whenever he’s had to answer the call, and I see no reason why he can’t win at least five rounds this season, and as Nico Rosberg proved, that’s still enough to provide a consistent title challenge.

I know, Lewis Hamilton deserves to be favourite, and he should – The extra experience on offer adding in to the fact he’s had three 10-win seasons in a row and yeah, I hear ya, but after the era of using every excuse in the book to put Nico Rosberg down… till he won the damn thing, I refuse to make this same mistake twice. Bottas has every chance of being at LEAST a threat. It’s the nature of a team that’s so over-powered, you automatically give the second guy a greater chance, regardless of how good you may or may not think he is.

And let’s not forget, we’re dealing with F1 media, who are obsessed with trying to make a narrative over everything, and/or trying to loop it back to Lewis Hamilton in some capacity (More on that tomorrow). That’ll be fun if Bottas runs Lewis off the road like he did all those times to Rosberg. Wonder if we’ll question his “World Champion Mentality”, whatever the hell that is.

But there’s one more element of the F1 spectrum that Bottas is super important in: Silly Season. And this is going to be the most stacked silly season, ever. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Val himself are all out of contract at the end of the season. Easy to forget, that Val is only at Mercedes on a one-year contract.

This could be his one and only shot for Val to win the title – reason being, he’s signed a deal where Mercedes kept ALL the leverage. I call it a “Prove it” deal as it happens in the NFL all the time with talent who are questionable, where franchises don’t want to commit a ton of guaranteed money to a player. Sign a one year deal, if the player works out, you tend to give him that long-term commitment.

If not, you can let him go at the end of the season, there’s no financial penalty or compensation, and it’s Mercedes… You got the #1 seat in F1 history, and you’ll have people queueing round the block. And it’s not like you’ll be short of options. As we saw last year, all it takes is one domino to fall and the whole grid can get shaken up… or brought back, if you’re Williams.

So yeah, for me, Valtteri Bottas is the most important element of the entire 2017 F1 season if you ask me, and how he holds up will shape a lot of his this season goes down. More season preview stuff for F1 and MotoGP later this week!