LONDON - Valtteri Bottas accepted that Mercedes were right to ask him to move aside and allow teammate Lewis Hamilton past in order to not hinder his pursuit of Sebastian Vettel during Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, even though it saw the reigning constructor champions take the rare option of implementing team orders.
Hamilton would eventually fall short after twice passing Bottas following instructions from the pit wall, even though the Finn out-qualified the three-time world champion on Saturday to prove he has the pace to rival his more successful teammate.
27-year-old Bottas struggled during his first stint after a generator problem on the grid meant that the Mercedes mechanics could not bleed the car’s tyres to the right air pressure, leaving Bottas with an unbalanced set-up that affected the levels of grip he had until his first pit stop.
But once he and Hamilton emerged from the pits behind Vettel’s Ferrari – and Hamilton with a five-second time penalty for deliberately holding up Daniel Ricciardo in the pit lane – Mercedes took the decision to release Hamilton in an effort to hunt down the lead Ferrari, and would do so again 10 laps from the finish as the Briton attempted to chase down a 20-second deficit that would eventually see him cross the line 6.6 seconds behind.
“As a racing driver it's the worst thing you want to hear, but that’s life,” Bottas said after third, a result he admitted was a disappointment. “I understand the team completely on that. They had the opportunity at the end of the day to get some extra points for the team and fight for the victory.
“So yes I see the point, but still it’s tough when you’re on pole and trying to win a race. But I’m definitely a team player so I wouldn’t say no to that [team order].”
He added: “In the first stint it was quite a big issue for sure. Sebastian and Lewis were putting on quite a lot of pressure and I couldn’t control the race. I had to try and build a gap but there was no grip to build it. Then I had to really take everything out of the tyres and the tyre life was shorter.
“We were also a bit unlucky with the safety car pit stop - it was a bit slow, so I lost a place to Sebastian. And then in the second and third stint still the pace wasn’t there and the car didn’t feel as it did yesterday, so we’ll have to find out what the problem was.”
Bahrain was coincidentally the scene of one of the great battles between Hamilton and his previous teammate, Nico Rosberg, in the famous “Duel in the Desert” of 2014. On that occasion, Hamilton would edge Rosberg in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel fight where they somehow managed to avoid colliding with each other, though later incidents between the two that did result in contact eventually led Mercedes to step in and warn the drivers about their conduct.
Bottas insisted afterwards that had he not had the tyre issues at the start and found the same balance as he had on Saturday, that he could have taken the fight to Hamilton just like Rosberg did, with the German eventually getting the better of Hamilton in 2016 when he won the drivers’ championship before retiring from the sport.
“I think there would have been a possibility,” Bottas insisted. “I would have had to defend hard and that could have meant some risky situations, but like I said the team thought he had the chance to catch Sebastian possibly, and we tried it.”
And while all this unfolded in an exciting third grand prix of the season, Rosberg was doing exactly what he intended to do after retiring from the sport, with the reigning world champion taking in the action from the comfort of his own sofa.