Valtteri Bottas did not exactly appear hugely willing to let Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton through in Formula 1’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Bottas was told over team radio not to hold up eventual winner Hamilton, who was rapidly catching him after switching onto a two-stop strategy in his pursuit of Max Verstappen, but the Finn seemed to resist - or at least delay - the instruction.

Bottas remained ahead of Hamilton for around half a lap before the seven-time world champion ultimately got through at Turn 10, but it wasn’t the smoothest of switches as Bottas hung his Mercedes car around the outside before tucking into third.

Bottas said after the race that he could have let Hamilton by sooner but was also focusing on his own race prospects.

Hamilton played it down, revealing he was unaware of the call to Bottas and thought they were racing for position.

Meanwhile, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he would have been “more critical” of Bottas had his slow reaction cost the team victory.

“I can relate to Valtteri that he had a tough day again and you’re annoyed,” he added. “If it would have lost the race, I would be more critical.

“But in the end, it’s something we can learn of. And it goes both directions, and this is what we will be discussing, but in a very camaraderie-like way.”

Is it a sign that the first cracks are beginning to emerge in the Bottas-Mercedes relationship, or was it a case of much ado about nothing?

Here are the views of our F1 writers…

Bottas’ reluctance should worry Mercedes

Bottas’ admission that he could have completed the swap earlier was telling, as was his “I’m not here to let people by” comment.

Yes, he was embroiled in his own battle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, but there were several opportunities throughout the half-a-lap he stayed ahead where the Finn could have let Hamilton by without composing his own race. He only had to pull offline for a fraction of a second and his time loss would have been minimal.

In those few corners, Bottas seemed to forget the bigger picture that Mercedes is in a fierce scrap with Red Bull for the championship and every point they can snatch away from their chief rival will be crucial.

While a major team orders flashpoint was ultimately avoided as Hamilton went on to win the race anyway, things would have been very different had Mercedes lost out to Red Bull as a direct consequence of Bottas’ apparent reluctance.

Wolff and Hamilton may have played down the incident in the joy of victory, but it will be a point of concern and a big problem for Mercedes if Bottas isn’t willing to play the team game going forwards. Mercedes needs to be able to trust that Bottas will do right by the team when called upon.

There were vibes of Kimi Raikkonen’s refusal to play second fiddle to then Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel at the start of the 2018 Italian Grand Prix after Raikkonen had learned he was going to be replaced by Charles Leclerc for the following campaign.

Even if Wolff and Bottas shut down pre-Spanish GP rumours that he could be replaced at Mercedes by George Russell during the current season, it certainly wasn’t the smartest thing to do when his future at the team is in the spotlight.

Lewis Larkam

The whole situation has been exaggerated

I think it’s premature to say Bottas’ delayed response to Mercedes’ team orders in Barcelona suggests he’s on his way out at the end of the year.

Did Bottas actually ignore team orders?

While he didn’t jump out of the way at the first time of asking, it’s unreasonable to expect Bottas to simply move off-line straight away, potentially picking up debris on his tyres and compromising his race even further.

Bottas held Hamilton up for half a lap at most and left his teammate sufficient room to get through into Turn 10.

The Finn could have easily covered the line or not given Hamilton any space into the corner given Turn 10 didn’t see any overtaking action all race.

On Lap 52, Verstappen did a 1m22.3s, Hamilton 1m22.6s (while overtaking Bottas), while Bottas was the most affected as he did a 1m25.1s.

The blasé responses from Hamilton and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff afterwards suggested they weren’t too phased by what occurred given the seven-time champion lost 1.5s at most to Verstappen and ultimately went onto take the victory with ease.

Could Bottas have moved out of the way sooner? Yes. Was it a symbolic defiance of team orders that we’ve seen in the past? Certainly not.

The perfect litmus test of the question posed is that if Bottas is leading and he’s then ordered to let Hamilton through. 

Only then will we know if Bottas’ journey with Mercedes is truly over at the end of the season.

Connor McDonagh

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

 

Comments

Loading Comments...