The Portuguese GP has been definitely a pretty good one for the Mercedes team. Lewis Hamilton after a P2 start won the race, and Bottas was able to secure P3 although he started from pole position. Thanks to having both of the drivers on the podium, Mercedes is able to enlarge the gap between them and Red Bull in the constructors championship, but the situation in the drivers standings became a little bit more complicated than that. With Sir Hamilton being the first one, with 69 points on his name, Max Verstappen is only 8 points behind him. The current number 3 in the standings is Lando Norris, and only then we have Valtteri Bottas, with less than half of the points of Lewis Hamilton (currently 32 points for the Finnish driver).
After the GP, many questions arouse, regarding the fight between the two Merc drivers, as well as the performances of both of them during the first 3 races of the season. The team principal of Mercedes Toto Wolff answered some of them, during a session with MotorLat and other selected media after the race.
When asked if we can expect a more “forceful but fair fight between the drivers, without them crossing the line”, Wolff said: “I think they’re not crossing the line on the track yet.
“Because the risk of losing points is just too big. But it is going to go head to head and certainly the rivalry will increase a lot, but I see Lewis completely relaxed about the situation. He enjoys every bit, working with the team, getting us up to speed cause we weren’t there and it’s just a fun place at the moment.”
Wolff was also asked if what we’ve seen during the race in Portimão was the so-called “Lewis special”. As he said: “I think we had (…) a good race car, but again also very close to the Red Bulls and he (Lewis) just drove an immaculate race, it makes no sense to talk about these exceptional Lewis performances because they have been quite regular, it’s his standard now and I think he sets the standard to himself.”
Because of the stellar performance by Lewis Hamilton, which is something he definitely got us used to, many began raising questions regarding the form and performance of his teammate Valtteri Bottas. After the big shunt at Imola, he seemed to be rebuilding himself and even scored a pole position in Portimão, although he very fast lost his position to Hamilton, and eventually finished the race at P3 after being plagued with errors during the race (such as his engine going into the “safe mode” closely to the end of the race).
At a certain point of the race Wolff even tried to motivate his driver via the team radio, which is something that has been picked up by many, due to the fact that the Austrian team principal rather rarely speaks through the team channels. When asked if Valtteri needs this type of motivating via the radio, he responded: “I need to speak to him again, he’s mentally strong, when you see how he recovers from last weekend and he was really catching up, he was hunting him (Verstappen) down but when I came on the radio it kinda flat-lined so maybe not in the future anymore.”
Afterwards, Toto spoke about the performance of the Finn in the first races of the season. Many began to question if Bottas is even in his “top form” due to the outcome of Imola and the fact he was so quickly beaten by his teammate during the Portimão race. To that, Wolff responded:
“He will be on top form, he was yesterday (qualifications) but you can see where he came from, after Imola there was a really right-off week and he has put it on pole yesterday and had a very solid race,
“It’s clear that when you’re in the front just kicking a hole in the air and the car behind you has drs that’s really difficult and the moment Lewis opened up a little but if a gap that was all. But he controlled Max well, we lost the undercut, that was unfortunate and we let him down with the engine that went into a safety mode.
“So all in all, I think like many times it could have worked for Valtteri, and we will be pushing hard and continuing to support him and next time we see what he’s capable of doing.”
The last thing that Wolff spoke about, was if he believes if they can keep catching up to Red Bull and stay on top of the regulation changes, and if he would’ve believed that they will be on top of the championship despite their problems in the first race and pre-season testing. To the latter one, he responded: “no, I wouldn’t have believed it, because I’m so in a way, reliant on probabilities and math and based on these facts, I wouldn’t have expected to be on pole twice and winning two races, that’s not what my brain would’ve told me”
Regarding the regulations changes and their fight with Red Bull, Wolff said: “never confident to be on top of the regs and never confident whether we can continue to improve in relation to red bull, I think its gonna be a fight “neck to neck” for a long time.”
The fight between the Mercedes and Red Bull gets thicker and thicker, and we will definitely observe another instalment in that saga in only a few days time, at the Spanish GP that will take place this upcoming weekend in Barcelona.