Following their elation at finding the ‘Flying Finn’ mark VIII, fans of F1 in Finlandia may be slightly perturbed following the weekend’s events in the desert of Bahrain. Pretty much as the strains of the jolly –and ridiculously lengthy – Italian national anthem were fading, Toto Wolff was being badgered as to when he would nominate Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes team’s number one driver.
The sub text of the Toto integrations and pronouncements from those such as former Williams technical director, was that Valterri Bottas had his chance, blew it and should now be relegated to number 2 status; presumably to also be forced to tug his pretty short forelock when his superior and better, Lewis Hamilton deigns to enter the garage.
What a load of bollocks!!!
The reality was – as the sometimes rabid Hamfosi have observed – Mercedes royally screwed one driver this weekend and his lack of performance was completely based upon a series of cock ups by F1’s world champion team. Further, Lewis Hamilton benefited greatly from the information the team gleaned. This data was in fact available to Mercedes from FP2, but they failed to understand the tea leaves – unlike their rivals the Scuderia.
Having overinflated the tyres of their pole sitter, Mercedes then appeared to be frozen in their own headlights as Valterri Bottas attempted to drive a 1000+ Bhp prototype racing machine on what must have felt like polished glass.
Conversely, Mercedes supporters may argue that the team made the best of this mistake by using Valterri to slow Vettel and then give Lewis an advantage.
But NO, this apparently didn’t dawn on the Brackley strategists as for lap after lap Bottas struggled to keep his car on the road and Lewis trundled along behind. Why did Mercedes not pit one of their drivers first? How is that that the Scuderia – at times the laughing stock of the elementary class of race strategists – got the jump on Merc and pitted Vettel first?
Had Lewis – or Valterri been offered this option, they would inevitably found themselves leading the race following the safety car deployment – as did Sebastian.
EVEN without the safety car being deployed, Vettel eventually successfully performed the undercut by stopping first– and regardless would have been leading the race following the first round of pit stops.
In fact having been turned over by Ferrari, the immediate response of Mercedes should have been to pit one of their drivers next lap – AND to go contra to Ferrari by fitting the soft tyre – not copy Vettel and fit the supersoft. Without teams of analysts, giga computers and banks of monitors, Max Verstappen understood this from behind the wheel of his soon to be doomed Red Bull Racing car.
But no, frozen by the missing page in the Mercedes manual of ‘how to do stuff’, they were eventually forced to act by the actions of Carlos Sainz and the resulting safety car.
To compound their previous ineptitude on the grid, Mercedes then discovered they had problems with their pit stop equipment, which meant Bottas stop was 4 seconds slower than Vettel’s.
THEN – another error. Despite being Sebastian Vettel’s closest rival, Bottas was given the same tyre as Ferrari driver. Clearly, anyone who watches a modicum of F1 will know Christian Horner’s favourite saying at present. “Do the same thing, you get the same result”. Long term Bottas would end up in the same pit window as Vettel.
Lewis was in fact afforded the contra strategy, though being behind his team mate would always mean he had to work a little harder to make it work.
Mercedes should also have known from their tyre data that given the track temperatures, the super soft tyre on the Mercedes car was a long way from the best option on their car which is heavy on tyres. So in a handful of laps, Hamilton on the soft tyre was passing Bottas as he struggled on the wrong rubber.
When Valterri was finally allowed to run on the better rubber, he had to stop so early that by the time his team mate then made his last stop, the performance differential between their soft tyres was enough to merit Lewis form benefitting from a team order.
All in all, Valterri Bottas is entitled to feel royally shafted by his team last weekend. Whatever, his wrongs were in Shanghai, the team paid him back with interest in Bahrain.
And yet seasoned commentator Martin Brundle implies today in his column, that somehow our new flying Finn was fighting with the big boys and not quite up to the task. “Valtteri Bottas found out what’s it’s like to get in the ring for 94 minutes with two multiple champions. They are brutally and relentlessly fast and he left Bahrain with a bloody nose,” Brundle observes.
Taking a reality check, Lewis Hamilton got out of jail this weekend. He was beaten to pole in just his third outing by his new team mate which for most of us was a huge surprise. Further, by utter misjudgement, he was given the strategy Mercedes would normally offer to their lead driver – and so it was inevitable he would finish ahead of Bottas.
How the headlines would be different had it been Hamilton who had been given the super soft tyre at pit stop one and Bottas the soft option. “Battered by Bottas: Is the world champion finished?”, may well have been popping up on the internet.
Lewis needs to raise his game somewhat, if he’s not going to find himself in another internal battle for supremacy at Mercedes and challenge Sebastian Vettel for the drivers’ 2017 world title
At least Toto Wolff resisted the repeated calls to write off Bottas this season – and for good reason. After all, in the post Schumacher era Ferrari were mocked for years having chosen to run with an outright number one driver, and the myriad of points sacrificed by the lack of motivation of their number 2.
If somehow in Russia or Barcelona Lewis Hamilton was to have a ‘nil point’ return, Mercedes will need their Finish gladiator to take the fight to Sebastian Vettel.
Kimi is clearly Ferrari’s number two – so check out the constructors table already.