Where did 2019 go wrong for Valtteri Bottas?

All the focus has been on Lewis Hamilton after he secured his sixth title in Austin, but in doing so he also put an end to the championship hopes of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Bottas started the season well and had the same car as Hamilton throughout the year, so at what point did his season slip away?

Beating Lewis Hamilton was never going to be easy. After two years as his teammate in 2017 and 2018, Valtteri Bottas already knew that going into the season. But after the first round of 2019 in Australia, there was a genuine belief that this could be his year.

Bottas claimed a resounding victory in Melbourne. Not only had Mercedes ripped up the preseason formbook -- which pointed firmly to Ferrari being the team to beat -- but he demolished his illustrious teammate by over 20 seconds in the race. Hamilton's car had damage and Bottas had benefited from a better start, but the headlines were heralding the arrival of Bottas 2.0.

At no point did Bottas kid himself that beating Hamilton would be easy, but the confidence he derived from the opening round was showing in his driving. Bahrain started well as he moved up to second place, ahead of eventual winner Hamilton, but a gust of wind caught him under braking at Turn 1 on the following lap and he dropped back behind his teammate. In China he bounced back with the first of three successive pole positions, but lost out again when his car broke traction as it crossed the painted start-finish line when the lights went out.

Will Hamilton break Schumacher's records? His second win of the year finally came at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April, but at that point he had no idea he would have to wait until the Japanese Grand Prix to take his third. Instead, he was the championship leader (albeit by a single point) and heading into the European season as the form driver at the best team on the grid.

Even so, the biggest test was still to come. Hamilton has a history of making slow starts to the season and if Bottas was going to be a serious contender for the title, he needed to continue his momentum when racing resumed on European soil.

It started well. Bottas secured pole position by 0.6s at the Spanish Grand Prix -- a margin between teammates that is rare in F1 regardless of who is on the other side of the garage -- and appeared to be riding a wave. On Sunday, however, another poor start gave Hamilton the lead into the first corner, which turned into victory in the race and a lead in the championship he would never relinquish.

Bottas came agonisingly close to pole position in Monaco at the following round. Just 0.096s separated him from Hamilton at the front of the grid and data from his lap suggested he lost 0.15s in the final corner alone. Had he secured pole, he would likely have won in Monaco due to the nature of the track and drawn level again with Hamilton in the championship. But as it played out, a clash with Max Verstappen in the pits dropped him to third in the race and by Sunday evening he was 17 points behind Hamilton in the standings.

His first big mistake of the season followed in Canada, when he spun out of the final part of qualifying and started the race sixth on the grid. A fourth-place finish followed but Bottas' silly mistake coincided with Hamilton finding his form as he took his third victory in a row (partly thanks to Sebastian Vettel slipping up and receiving a penalty for cutting a corner).

A particularly frustrating race in France saw Bottas cling to second place by less than a second as Hamilton romped to a fourth consecutive victory by nearly 20 seconds. The tables had been well and truly turned since the opening round in Australia, and in the space of four rounds Bottas had dropped 37 points to Hamilton. He didn't admit it at the time, but in reality his championship chances were over.

"Overall I think there were a few mistakes, for sure, from my side I should have been able to avoid," Bottas said as he reflected on his season in Austin. "There were a couple on race starts, at least some of them were mistakes, some were maybe unlucky moments, but they made me learn.

"Then a couple of qualifyings I messed up in Q3, definitely, which cost me starting position for the race and compromised the race and I lost points because of that."

Around that time, Bottas was also worrying about his future. Since joining Mercedes in 2017, he has been on a rolling one-year contract and in the middle of each season he has had to split his focus between what's happening on-track and where he will race the following year. This summer, there were suggestions Mercedes' junior driver, Esteban Ocon, who had been left without a drive in 2019, could replace him in 2020 and it was not until the end of summer break -- by which point the gap to Hamilton was 62 points -- that he knew his position was secure.

It's hard for a racing driver to admit, but with hindsight Bottas said the situation was impacting his form.

"There was definitely uncertainty for 2020 at some point. Lots of rumours. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just had to wait. So, for sure, as an athlete, as a driver, it's not an ideal situation. You can't be completely with peace of mind and focus on the job and feel mentally free and in the right place.

"It's tricky. When that continues, you know, year after year, every single year of your career, at some point it's getting a pain in the ass -- so it's definitely nice to get the contract signed.

"It's going to be the same story next year. But I'm not too worried at this point because the pace is good, I enjoy the driving, I enjoy working with the team and hope they appreciate that as well."

It's something Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says he will keep in mind next year.

"I think with Valtteri, there is a better way to deal with that," he said. "Now, in retrospect, you can say it probably had an effect. And I will try to consider that and make a better job in that respect.

"In 2021 the door is wide open, no drivers are contracted to any team, that is super exciting. And I guess the driver carrousel is going to start very soon."

Bottas is the first to admit that he needs to be at his best to beat Hamilton. That hasn't always been the case this year and the added uncertainty about his future gave him another factor to deal with while his teammate could simply focus on racing.

But when you boil it down, Hamilton was simply more consistent than Bottas in 2019 and outdrove his teammate for the majority of the season. Ultimately, that was the real reason he won the title (with two rounds remaining) and Bottas knows he has to up his game again to beat him in 2020.

"Luck, bad luck, whatever you want to call it, it has been pretty even for me and Lewis overall, so he's just been on a great level again this year, every single race," he said. "I've not been able to be at my very, very best every single race, but much more often than ever before, so the direction is clear for me in terms of my development, overall.

"I personally failed on my target this year, but there's always next season. But he deserves it. He had some season."

In the seven races since the summer break, Bottas has finished ahead of Hamilton in three. It's still not quite enough to make the difference, but after failing to win a single race in 2018, the Finn is confident he has made big gains in 2019.

"It's a good momentum now and in terms of race pace, which has been my weakness in the years before, I've made huge gains by working really hard with the engineers on every single detail of my driving and setup.

"That's getting better and that gives me real confidence for next year and, unlike at the end of last year, now I really look forward to the year ahead, and I'm already excited to start the next season and start from fresh. So that's going to be good fun."