Having won the opening race of the 2019 and 2020 Formula One season, Valtteri Bottas had to settle for the third step of the podium following a gripping opening race under the lights in Bahrain. Nevertheless, Bottas made clear in his post-race comments that this was a result he knows the team would have taken following their performance at the Winter pre-season test. With that in mind, and a bonus point for the hardworking Finnish racer as a result of the fastest lap – maybe this was not such a bad result after all.
Third place for Valtteri Bottas was all the more impressive due to the fact that with the race at the hour mark, the Finnish racer had to endure a 10.9 second pitstop as his right front tyre was slow to come off. This resulted in Bottas coming out behind the impressive Lando Norris and always a threat - Charles Leclerc. With Daniel Ricciardo also gaining fast, the doom mongers predicted Bottas being swallowed up in the pack.
However, on this occasion a Bahrain pitstop would not steal the headlines (unlike in 2020) and due to superb tyre management, track positioning of his W12 and consistent lap times – Bottas claimed third. Having come across the line with almost a 10-second gap to 4th-place man Lando Norris, it was clear how much race pace Bottas had found and bodes well for the season ahead.
Speaking to the media after the race, third-place finisher Valtteri Bottas shared his thoughts on what was an eventful race.
“We lost a lot of time on the slow pit stop otherwise it was a close race with Red Bull. The cars were quite close on pace but if you lose 10 seconds like that, racing against Max and Lewis, you are not going to get that back.”
As much as Lewis Hamilton’s victory for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team was a success for the team as a whole, Valtteri Bottas made clear his expectation and pragmatic viewpoint:
“On a personal level it’s not satisfying but at least as a team, we have more points than Red Bull. It was the right thing at the end to stop for new tyres and set the fastest lap so we have an extra point.”
A casual Formula One fan may feel there is no shock to see the order of yesterday’s top three, with Max Verstappen sandwiched between the two Mercedes drivers in the final classification. However, following the events of the Winter pre-season test, this was very much Red Bull Racing’s opening race to lose – and they did!
“The car was more drivable today, it was better than yesterday and we are continuing to make steps forward. Hopefully we can make further progress. We have three weeks of work ahead of us before Imola. If you had said at testing that we would have two drivers on the podium and be top of the Constructors’ table after the first race, we would have taken it.” Bottas concluded.
Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Toto Wolff, made clear that the team is delighted with the result but there is still work to do in qualifying. During a press conference attended by a Motorlat representative, Wolff had this to say:
If somebody would have told me that this was going to be the result on Sunday, I probably would have not believed them. But we’ve come away from the test, still, if you are 100% honest to yourself we are still lacking pace in qualifying, quite a bit and I think we were competitive.”
Mercedes certainly was competitive but Formula One is a team sport and as such a large part of the victory is owed to to their strategists as much as to the race craft of Sir Lewis Hamilton. Toto Wolff explained this in his post-race remarks to the media:
“The strategy made all the difference…we took a bold move at the beginning…and at the end the racing call was on our side…we were 4 tenths off in qualifying and that’s quite a gap, very difficult to recover. We knew that we had a good race car but whether it was enough to reduce that gap wasn’t very clear.”
What is very clear, is that Red Bull Racing’s hype should be believed – irrespective of the fact that they just missed the top step yesterday. If Sir Lewis Hamilton is to claim a record-breaking 8th Formula One Drivers’ Championship by winning the majority of races by 0.7 seconds – then we are all in for a treat.
However, as anyone who watched the Netflix Drive to Survive series, Valtteri Bottas does not view himself as a number two driver and had he endured better luck in the pits, the closing stages of the opening race of the 2021 F1 season could well have been very different.
The winner yesterday, was Sir Lewis Hamilton but as much as it may be a cliché, the real winner yesterday was Formula One - and the season’s only just begun!