Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says Mercedes’ decision to ask Valtteri Bottas to back off during the Singapore Grand Prix was “not a great call”.

Lewis Hamilton found himself in the lead of the race after Mercedes opted to extend his first stint but soon began to struggle for pace on ageing Soft tyres, resulting in him falling at risk of being undercut by his rivals behind, all of whom had pitted earlier.

They included teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Alexander Albon. In a bid to ensure that Hamilton remained ahead, Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles came over the radio to ask Bottas to slow his pace. Bottas duly obliged, meaning that Hamilton only lost two positions and re-emerged in fourth place ahead of the Finn.

“It’s not a great call that we made there, but the undercut was more powerful than everybody expected,” Wolff admitted.

“I don’t think Ferrari wanted to swap their drivers by letting Sebastian [Vettel] pit first. And we risked Lewis’s position by keeping him out in order to protect the win.

“This is why we held Valtteri back to keep [Alexander] Albon behind, because Lewis would have come out behind Albon.

“So overall the team result would have been worse than with Valtteri doing that. We owe him that place.”

Bottas insisted he understood Mercedes’ decision and is certain he would have received the same treatment had things been the other way around.

“I already knew it at that point, because there are certain rules we follow,” Bottas said.

“Always, before the pit stops, the one that qualified better, the one that who is ahead, always gets the priority and he can then choose to either go short or go long, and he chose to go long. Then, me, behind and that’s how it goes.

"Obviously, if I had gone flat out I would have undercut him and Albon would have done it too. So, I completely see the point, from the team’s perspective.

“And I know it will be the same if it’s vice-versa and I’ll make sure it will be the same if it’s vice-versa. I trust it will be, but obviously from the outside it looks pretty bad and from my side, being in that situation, it’s completely against my instincts, to back off not to overtake your teammate.

“It doesn’t make any sense, but that kind of rule has been there for I don’t know how long, at least since I joined the team. But it’s both ways, it’s not only for Lewis, so it’s OK.”

 

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