Valtteri Bottas believes that the way the current Williams car handled its tyres may have been the deciding factor between a podium finish and mere points in the Russian Grand Prix.
The Finn was promoted to a front row start after Sebastian Vettel's gearbox penalty took effect in qualifying, but was unable either to offer a challenge to polesitter Nico Rosberg or fend off the charging Lewis Hamilton, who benefited from a first lap melee to vault his way from tenth to an eventual second. The final step of the podium may still have been possible for the Finn, however, but he lost out in a battle with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, eventually coming home 18secs adrift of his countryman.
Although he diced with both Raikkonen and Hamilton at times, passing and repassing the Ferrari on two separate occasions, Bottas drifted away towards the end of the race and crossed the line a lonely fourth. That was still the best result for Williams this year, beating team-mate Felipe Massa's fifth in Melbourne, but the Finn was left to rue what might have been.
“In think that, in the end, their tyre wear was so much better that their full stint pace was better,” he said of the opposition, “I think we did the right thing stopping early – in fact, the tyre wear was kicking in, the tyres were really starting to go and there was a maximum of one extra lap in the tyres – but we lost a bit with the tyre wear today.
“It's a shame, because we wanted more as a team and, of course, me too. When you start from the front row, you want more, but this was the maximum we could do with the pace we had.”
The battle with Raikkonen was one of Bottas' high points in the 53-lap race and he gave as good as he got before his tyres began to suffer.
“I think he got a bit of a tow and managed to get inside, to pass me,” he said of the Ferrari's initial lunge, “The start was quite good, just a bit of wheelspin because I was starting from the dirty side of the track, so Kimi go through in turn two, but I got him back on the re-start.
“He seemed to struggle a bit in the last two corners, before the re-start, so I managed to get close to him and get a tow – that helped! In the first stint, I could still keep Kimi and Lewis behind but, in the second stint, the pace difference was too big. I think that, even if I had kept them behind for longer, it would have been just a mater of time before they would have got through.”
With Daniil Kvyat doing his best to reduce the opposition to Williams by taking Sebastian Vettel out of the race and hampering the efforts of both Red Bull entries, Bottas is confident that the improvement Williams showed in Sochi can translate going forward.
“[Our pace] is definitively track related – we know it, that's a fact – but we'll see in Barcelona,” he said, “We made a step forward here, but I think it will be a very close battle with Red Bull. It's a long season and even small developments will help. It should be a tight battle, but I think my season really starts from here. It was quite a positive weekend, so hopefully we'll have many good results to come from now on.”