Just three races into the 2021 Formula 1 season, the haters are already going after Mercedes F1 driver Valtteri Bottas.
Despite the fact that Bottas finished second in the World Championship the past two seasons, a DNF at Imola has left Bottas fourth in the standings after three races and given the naysayers plenty of ammunition in their belief that it's time to replace Bottas with Williams F1 driver George Russell. Russell replaced Lewis Hamilton last year in Bahrain for one race after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.
And all Russell did was lead 59 of 87 laps before his drive for the win was ended by a tire mixup in the Mercedes pits. Oh, yeah, it was also Russell whose contact this year at Imola knocked Bottas from contention in that race.
Bottas addressed the rumors that Mercedes was considering making a mid-season switch, possibly promoting Russell and banishing Bottas to Williams or some other Mercedes outpost.
Bottas says he's not taking the rumors seriously. But he's not laughing, either.
"No, because I know I'm not going to be replaced in the middle of the season," Bottas said on Thursday during media availability for Sunday's F1 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. "As a team, we don't do that. I have a contract for this year. I think there is only one team that does that kind of thing in F1, and we're not that.
"I know how things are. There's always bullshit around, and that's part of the sport."
That one team that Bottas was referring to is Red Bull, which famously swapped out Pierre Gasly for Alexander Albon in 2019. Red Bull also pulled a midseason switch with Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen in 2016.
Bottas is hoping that his value will be magnified this year in the battle with Red Bull. If Bottas can outpoint Red Bull's No. 2, Sergio Garcia, that will go a long way toward helping Mercedes secure an unprecedented eighth consecutive F1 Constructors' Championship.
"This year, if you're lacking a bit of pace you can drop one or two places," Bottas said. "I think that's how it should be. If I do my job as well as I can, hopefully, we'll be very visible and the talking will stop pretty quickly."
Lewis Hamilton, Bottas' teammate, said that change is just a part of the sport. Mercedes has already lost a few employees on the tech side to rivals, including Red Bull, this season.
"At some stage, it's going to shift, it's going to change," Hamilton said. "I'm not going to be here forever. Valtteri won't be here forever. But right now, I think we've delivered, time and time again over the years, and we continue to. Valtteri just qualified pole the last race. It's only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and let him focus on what he's doing."
As for the folks back at the Mercedes F1 shop who have left for new challenges, Hamilton says he's not paying much mind to that.
"It's not something I put any energy towards,"Hamilton said. "There is obviously all this that's going on in the background. I think I've got the best ally with (team principal) Toto (Wolff) who will be working to manage it in the best way possible. Without doubt, every individual that's in our team is amazing, and it's not a surprise that everybody will want them. We've had a lot of success together.
"If there are people have moved on, I wish them all the best. I think we all have to go through our own journeys and make our own decisions which is right for us. But I think this is a huge team, it's a big team, and it's not about one individual or even five. It's about a collective. And we've go an amazing collective group of people that still remain solid and focused on winning this championship."