Valtteri Bottas was returning to the Paul Ricard track, after a hiatus in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Finnish driver was coming from a streak of two pointless races, having encountered a wheel nut issue during a pitstop that took him out of the race in Monaco while running for second, as setup issue stopped him from having enough confidence in his car to finish higher than 12th in Baku.
Considering the prize list of Mercedes around the French circuit, and also the nature of the track that was supposed to suit the strengths of the W12, Valtteri Bottas approached the weekend with high expectations.
Part of Bottas’ preparation consisted in a swapping of chassis with his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Toto Wolff — Mercedes team principal — explained the reasoning behind the swap, asserting it was a standard procedure of the team, as they could always bring a new chassis in case of need.
"We swap out around all the time, this is part of the planning, of this carry over chassis, you know they run for a second season so we're not accumulating millions of miles on one and basically that's part of the plan.”
“But it's good to get the feedback and if it calms the drivers’ mind, we have a spare chassis which is a brand new one and we can always do that."
The swapping seemed to suit Bottas’, as he comfortably came ahead of Hamilton in all the practice sessions. Asked how the changes impacted his driving compared to Baku, the Nastola native made no mystery of how confident he felt.
“I have a much better feeling than a couple of weeks ago, that’s for sure. We started the weekend on the front foot, everything felt OK and the car has been pretty fast so far”
“The balance is good, the tyres are working well, I’m confident with the car and I can trust the car”.
Unfortunately for Bottas, in qualifying Hamilton found the tenth he was missing to qualify ahead of him, leaving him third, three tenths short off the mark set by the pole sitter Max Verstappen.
During the post qualifying interviews, Bottas asserted however how better the car felt in comparison with its previous performances. He added that there was little time left on the table, as the pace of the Red Bull was too strong, especially in the straights.
“It’s been a strong weekend, for sure a lot better than a couple weeks ago and I was hoping to fight for the pole.”
“The last run in Q3 felt good so I didn’t feel like there was much more lap time to make up, I think Red Bull had the edge in a straight line here which made the difference.”
Ultimately, the Finn sounded nothing but optimistic to fight for the win, anticipating a strategic fight in regard to their grid positions — crucially ahead of one of the Red Bulls.
“We are definitely fighting for the win tomorrow, we’re between the two Red Bulls with two cars against one so on strategy, we can be smart and bring the challenge to them. Nothing is going to come easy but we’re ready for the challenge tomorrow.”