Valtteri Bottas was making no apologies for his decision not to leap out of the way of his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton at a critical moment of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton had dropped behing the Finn after making a second pit stop on lap 43 for a fresh set of mediums. He was 22 seconds behind race leader Max Verstappen and was up against it when it came to catching up again in the laps remaining.
When Hamilton caught his team mate on lap 52, Bottas didn’t exactly make it easy for him to get past despite knowing the high stakes involved, and that Hamilton was on an entirely different race strategy.
“I definitely could have let him by earlier,” a defiant Bottas told Jenson Button in parc ferme after the chequered flag. “But I was doing my own race so there is always a moment to calculate things.”
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He explained that he had his hands full with his own battle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc over the final podium position, and it was this that was at the forefront of his mind.
“I was trying to get Charles [Leclerc] out of the pit window so I could stop again and try and go for an extra point [for fastest lap of the day] so the main thing in my mind was my own race.”
Bottas insisted that he hadn’t received a great deal of communication from the pit wall during the critical moment. “There wasn’t that much. They told me not to hold him up too much, but like I said I was also doing my race.
“I got the message and obviously we were on a different strategy at that point so unless something crazy had happened we weren’t really in the fight anymore with him.
“I was really conscious that I don’t want to lose too much time and wanted to focus on my race,” he said. “As a racing driver you prioritise yourself and your race because that is what you do
“I’m not here to let people by,” he added. “I’m here to race.”
“But also we work as a team so you don’t want to ruin the win for the team if that is possible,” he admitted later. “I tried to do the best thing I could do for the team and myself. It is always hard with those type of things.”
For his part, Hamilton said that he was unaware that there had been any instructions or team orders handed down to Bottas.
“Honestly, I didn’t know he had a message so in my mind I was like, ‘We are racing’,” the world champion said in post-race interviews. “That is really fine for me, particularly early on in the season.
“In my mind, I was getting close and going for an overtake,” he continued. “We were on massively different strategies so I was going to get him at some stage because I had much fresher tyres and into turn 10,
“I thought there was a gap there but I wasn’t sure, but Valtteri was completely fair,” he said. “We are the best team-mates!
“I hope I didn’t lose him too much time. This is how we win as a team. We are sometimes in the position where we have got to put the team first. Getting a second and a third is good, but getting a first is the most points and that is key.”
Like Hamilton, Bottas had lost a position on the first lap when he was passed by Leclerc. He remained stuck behind the Ferrari for the opening stint of the race until finally managing to pull off the undercut during the first round of pit stops.
“I lost a place to Charles at lap one, he chose a better line through Turn 3,” Bottas said. “He was on the outside, and to be honest I hadn’t seen him. Once I saw him it was too late and he overtook me.
“It’s so tricky to follow and so I knew when I was P4 that it was going to be tricky,” he said. “It compromised the race a bit. It’s a bit of a shame, but at least we made it back to the podium and outscored Red Bull.
“The pace was okay today though. At first, we thought about a one-stop, but that turned out not to be possible. The wear on the medium tyre was much higher than expected, so we had to change some things.
“I think it is just small details,” he added. “Otherwise, the pace is there. As a team, we are scoring solid points but not perfect points, so there is still work to do.”
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