Prior to Sunday’s disastrous Hungarian Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas had enjoyed a successful Saturday at the Hungaroring by qualifying ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton and being a mere 0.018 from pole-sitter Max Verstappen. Bottas has 4 pole positions this season which is the same amount as his 5-time world champion teammate. Unfortunately, for the under pressure Finnish driver, championship points are given out on a Sunday and having just passed the half way mark of the season, Bottas has 2 race victories (compared with the 8 for Hamilton) and now has Max Verstappen nipping at his feet in the championship table just 7 points behind.
It is for these reasons, as the summer break arrives, that there are many in the paddock wondering whether Valtteri Bottas will still be a Mercedes driver next year. To Bottas’ credit he unsurprisingly will not give up the fight and make way for the much favoured Esteban Ocon and his recent comments have shown he is ready to adjust the way he battles Lewis Hamilton on track.
Valtteri Bottas’ race was as good as over before it begun due to the fact that having allowed Lewis Hamilton space on the outside of Turn 2 and into Turn 3 he then became susceptible to Charles Leclerc and the ensuing overtake damaged the W10 of Bottas and destroyed his race. This is where the sequence of events is so costly because had Bottas not been so gracious to Hamilton, he would not have been so close to Leclerc and he would not have had contact requiring a pit stop which sent him to the back of the pack. However, this is all ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and the reality is that Bottas was compromised and had to claw his way back to 8th place at the chequered flag whilst also being a lap down on his victorious teammate.
So, what was the catalyst for this sequence of events?
Valtteri Bottas followed Mercedes team protocol by leaving space for Hamilton and Mercedes’ Team boss Toto Wolff has admitted that adhering to these rules did compromise the Finnish driver in his first lap tussle with Lewis Hamilton at the Hungaroring. Despite having sympathy for Bottas, Wolff has made clear that this protocol will continue and there will be no hard overtakes between teammates bearing any similarity between that late overtake made by Max Verstappen on Charles Leclerc in Austria.
"Even if the stewards deem the Leclerc and Verstappen incident at Austria correct, we don't deem it correct within the team. We leave space. So we knew that wasn't going to happen. It was just a really unfortunate half lap for [Bottas]. There is an outside line outside Turn 2, and if you stick your nose out there and you are able to hold the position through the corner you are on the inside. We've seen it with the Toro Rossos and in Formula 2. The outside is a possible line."
It was possible for Bottas to hold position but the reality of being able to do so was unlikely and his slight lock up did him no favours either and he accepted his error:
“Turn 1, I had a lock-up. That was my mistake, I was trying to brake as late and hard as I could. I was trying to get to the outside of Max but just a bit of a nip there with the front right, then a flat spot, and [I had] a bit of understeer in the left hand corner Turn 2. That made it tricky when Lewis and Charles came, and we had the contacts and we lost a big piece of front wing."
However, Bottas has hinted that in future he may not be so generous to his teammate whilst still sticking to company rules.
"That's how it goes…we're also here as a team, we want to maximise the points, and we don't want to compromise that side of things. Racing can still be good, even though you don't push others off the track, if you do it nice and fair and hard, there still can be good respect. Turn 3 was a bit on the limit, [Hamilton] didn't leave much room, and next time in Turn 2, where I lost, I'll think differently. But we both still have respect, and we know the limits."
This key phrase ‘I’ll think differently’ is exactly what Valtteri Bottas needs to do if he wants to re-energise his title charge, reduce the 62-point gap to his teammate and quieten the young 21-year-old Red Bull driver nipping at his heels in the table. If he can do this, then maybe that will be enough to make Mercedes think differently as well – we shall know soon enough.