“The worst thing a driver can hear”: Valtteri Bottas comes to terms with Mercedes F1 team order
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Valtteri Bottas
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Apr 2017   |  9:45 am GMT  |  257 comments

“I think honestly as a racing driver it’s maybe the worst thing you want to hear (an order to move over for your team mate).

“For sure I did it because there was potential. Lewis could challenge Sebastian. In the end it didn’t happen but the team tried which I completely understand but personally it is tough but that’s life. I didn’t have enough pace today and we need to find the reasons why that was.”

Valtteri Bottas

The words of a rueful Valtteri Bottas after the Bahrain Grand Prix reflecting on the call from Mercedes to let Lewis Hamilton through into second place on Lap 47, with ten laps to go to the end.

A week earlier in China, Ferrari had declined to do the same with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel lost time to Hamilton and eventually had to pass Raikkonen on track to make progress. Ferrari’s policy is not to issue an order early in the season – until one driver has a clearly superior mathematical chance of the title. Few in the F1 paddock felt that this was the right thing to do in China.

So what was behind this decision from Mercedes in the third race of the season and does it cast Bottas in the Felipe Massa or David Coulthard mould of the number two driver who moves over when requested, never to become world champion?

David Coulthard

Coulthard obeyed an order in Australia 1998, after Mika Hakkinen had misheard a radio call and pitted in error. McLaren boss Ron Dennis, feeling that Hakkinen was the more likely driver to be able to beat Michael Schumacher to the world title, ordered Coulthard to move over, saying that Hakkinen was rightfully the leader due to a problem he suffered. Coulthard arguably never recovered from that to be able to mount a career like Nico Rosberg’s where he eventually created an opportunity to win a world championship.

So is Bottas heading the same way?

Not necessarily.

A team order such as was issued on Sunday is not only the worst thing for a driver to hear, it is also the worst thing for a team representative to say. Whatever Rob Smedley’s achievements in F1, he will always be remembered as the engineer who said to Massa (below), “Fernando is faster than you.”

Alonso, Massa Germany 2010

There has to be a reason behind it and that has to be about what is best for the team’s interest to win a race. After the race there has to be a full debrief with all data with both drivers in which the situation and the decision are explained.

All teams are different and the exact words used on Sunday are not known, although sources suggest that Bottas was fine with the detailed explanation. His words in the press conference even before that debrief had taken place indicate that he knew he wasn’t fast enough. What he will have wanted to know is how real Hamilton’s chances of victory were at that point? Or was it just about giving Hamilton the extra three points for second place to keep in closer touch with Vettel, which would be less acceptable at this early stage of the season and demotivating for Bottas?

A bit of research on Sunday night around the F1 paddock indicates an ‘enlightened’ team order is usually done by explaining that the other driver is on a different plan and has new tyres and is much faster with a chance to win the race. If the driver ahead feels he has the pace to do it, now is his chance for the next two or three laps to speed up and show it.

This puts the responsibility in the hands of the driver in front. If he speeds up, the car positions stay as they are and it’s up to the following driver to find a way past.

If he does not, as Bottas didn’t on Sunday, then he realises himself that the game is up and to stay ahead would be to cost the team a chance of winning the race, which in turn means 7 fewer points in the Constructors’ Championship.

Valtteri Bottas

Race pace deficit

Hamilton was grateful and conciliatory towards his new team mate, in the same way as he was remarkably gracious when Bottas took pole on Saturday.

The motives for both reactions were the same; Hamilton is a good bit faster than Bottas in race pace and has been right since the start of testing. While Bottas has done very well on the single lap pace to close the gap in qualifying from around 3/10ths on Australia, down to 2/10ths in China and pole in Bahrain, he still has a long way to go to match Hamilton in races. Raikkonen is similarly adrift of Vettel at Ferrari.

Bottas had the added issue of a tyre pressure error at the first stint, but by his own admission he generally wasn’t quick enough in any of the three stints.

In stint two of the race, the team had allowed Hamilton to sit behind Bottas for 10 laps, from Lap 17 to Lap 27. During that time Vettel opened the gap up over Hamilton from 1.9secs to 6.7 seconds. Arguably the team made a mistake in allowing this to happen. Vettel’s second stint was what won him the race, the fastest fuel corrected pace of anyone in the race.

“I just couldn’t keep up with the pace,” said of the early part of the race. “The tyres were just dropping. Then on the second stint it was a bit better initially. I think the second stint was not that far off. Still struggling with oversteer but much less than in the first one, and then the last stint, again, used the tools I had to adjust the car balance but still couldn’t get the rear end to work.

“Really strange race for me and the pace was disappointingly poor for me. Yeah, not a good day for me.”

Hamilton had the pace to challenge Vettel on the soft tyre, which is why he used it for two stints in the race. He lost the minimum amount of time getting through Bottas, but Vettel had something in hand and turned his engine up from Laps 50 to 53 to tell Hamilton that he had some reserve. Hamilton realised it and the signs are he cooled it, as his lap times dropped in the final three laps.

Look at the race trace below, Hamilton’s line is the solid blue, Bottas the dotted blue. The gaps between the lines show the gaps in seconds and the upward curve shows the pace, the more steeply upward the curve, the greater the pace. A version of this in real time is what the Mercedes team will have been looking at to inform their decision.

Hamilton lost the race due to a series of setbacks, which started with not getting pole, then losing a place at the start to Vettel, then making an error under the Safety Car, which attracted a five second penalty then being constrained to take used soft tyres for the final stint as Mercedes was struggling on race day to get the supersofts to perform and to last.

That he got as close as he did shows his remarkable pace on soft tyres, but in reality Vettel had the race won. One can understand why Mercedes felt it was worth trying it with the team order, but they will be monitoring carefully any negative effect on Bottas’ motivation and spirit going forward.

The good news for the Finn is that the next race is Russia, historically his strongest track and an ideal place to show what he can do.

What do you think of this situation? Would you have done the same thing if you were on the Mercedes pit wall? Leave your comment below


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1

I understand that the team would have given Bottas a good reason to let Hamilton by. But I can’t imagine them saying: ‘let lewis by, if he has amazing pace AND passes Vettel AND makes a 5 second gap, he could win!!!’

Must be pretty hard to swallow that they didn’t just hand second place to LH.

2

I believe this was not right decision for so many facts
1. Too early to force team order.
2-Bottas is very good calm driver. He won’t Crack under pressure as Hamilton did in so many times. We already saw it twice
3- psychologically nit good to create that on team need to be cohesive
4- Botta has only 1 yr contract. So I would think. What if he think. Well. I’m going to press harder for better deal even out if Merced as they failing already.
5- what if things turn around and Botta doing better. Will Mercedes ask Hamilton to be#2?? Won’t happen
6- thus action will backfire on Merc in favor of Ferrari. Time will tell

3

I find it a bit bewildering that they let Hamilton through, from where I was sitting he was never going to make up the time deficit to Vettel. He clearest had more pace in hand, I do believe the best thing to do would have been to let Hamilton overtake Bottas on his own merit, which I do believe he would have done anyway. Sure it would have been too late for the win, but for me Hamilton lost the race at the start when Vettel overtook him.

4

Geee, the way things panned out it would have been better to do as you suggest, but the chance was there, slim but there.

5

James, I respect your insight and expertise in everything formula 1, but why haven’t you reported lewi’s q3 drs malfunctioning? All it all it was a terrible weekend for mercedes. They can’t hope to constantly challenge ferrari or more specifically vettel with these blunders.

6

It’s only just emerging now and we’re assessing it

7

Seems like Merc is eager than Ferrari or RedBull to label Number 2 on a driver. Last 3 years they are absolutely sure they can win the title between the two of the drivers so didn’t bother team orders and Toto frequently boasted about how they allow their drivers to race. Now that Ferrari is almost on par they clearly made Bottas number 2 in 3rd race of the year. That’s worst than Alonso-Massa or Schumacher-Barrichello/Irvine standard

8

I think the team had to make this decision and Bottas took the pragmatic approach to acquiesce. Shades of Monaco 2016, when Rosberg let Hamilton go. Also of Bahrain 2012, when one team’s (understandable) reluctance to deploy team orders benefited Vettel (Lotus in that case). The problem is not the deployment of team orders per se, but the context; he was too slow. It weakened any defence he may have had in not complying, despite his strong pole position. Bottas has shown he’s a team player but can he show that he belongs alongside Lewis and Vettel?

It’s a bit like with leaders of political parties; once they’ve won the party leadership election, they should be given time to connect with the public (Bottas should be given time to get up to speed at Merc). Yet, in practice, the public’s impression of a leader is often formed very quickly, and if they don’t connect early, they very probably never will (in practice, if Bottas can’t match Hamilton early on, he very probably never will). Happy for Bottas to prove me wrong though.

9

I think if VB end up showing good pace by the end of the season, he will be free to win the championship on 2018 with MERC even if HAM continues, but for 2017 he is DRIVER #2 period, will be allow to win races? of course, why not? if he have the pace and chance he will win races this year, but if HAM needs it then he will need to give up his position because HE IS DRIVER #2, I don’t see the big deal or why people is concern about this, are we F1 fans? because doesn’t look like some understand that F1 has been always be like that.

Like Rosberg did VB needs to deliver and fight to deserve it.

10

I’m was not surprised to hear Hamilton give Wolff a not so subtle “we can’t let the Ferrari’s get too far ahead” message over the radio Sunday. After all, he runs the team.

What he was really saying was “I am the number 1 driver, I know it and you know it so tell Bottas to move aside”. Nothing like destroying a drivers confidence. Another Alonso, Maasa scenario.

So he was gifted Bottas’ place so he could put on a show – ripping off some fast laps while Vettel comfortably managed his lead. The truth is Hamilton had a snowballs chance in hell of catching Vettel.

Great work Toto…you deserve to lose!

11

@ derek…. a very good post and i agree 100%. It was far better for wolff to give the instruction then there wouldn’t be any blowback on hamilton, who should’ve been able to breeze past anyway! Once the instruction was given i feel that Bottas knew he had been shafted so he paced himself to the end. There was no way that hamilton was going to catch vettel and even if did he wouldn’t be able to pass him! He couldn’t even pass Bottas who was in a slower car than Vettel. No, i see this as simply a face saving for the team and hamilton exercise.

12

Bottas should have done his research on the team he was joining.

Team orders at Mercedes mean nothing and there is no penalty for ignoring them: Even orders that are given to improve Constructors points.

Hamilton has ignored orders in 2014 (Hungary) and 2017 (Abu Dhabi) and look what happened as a result. Nothing.

When Rosberg has obeyed team orders (Malaysia 2013 and Monaco 2016) there has been no payback.

Bottas should be advised to ignore any future team orders unless he truly wants to be subordinate.

13

There’s your reason why Bottas is not world championship material.

Can you imagine Alonso, Vettel, Verstappen, or Hamilton doing that? Vettel told the team to jump when asked to do so at RBR – maybe that killer instinct is why he’s got 4 WDCs and going for a 5th.

14

I feel for Bottas, the pressure he is under to perform at Lewis’ level is immense and will only increase if he doesn’t speed up. Let’s not forget that he’s on a one-year contract.

Sadly, I don’t think he’s ever going to bother Lewis, at least not on a consistent basis. He never had enough of an edge over Massa who was dominated by Alonso at Ferrari.

15

Hamilton was always going to overtake Bottas with or without team orders. The only difference was that without having to fight, Hamilton might have a small chance of challenging Vettel for the win. So Bottas moving out of the way was the right thing to do, and the pit wall just needed to give him the message.

16

The Bahrain go brought a few things to light.
Did Valteri really , honestly believe he was going to be allowed to beat LH?? Fair shout on getting pole but this is the tip of the F1 and huge investments etc have been made. If no one else will I,ll say it. Unless you up your game/stock significantly you will be a no2 driver to LH.

17

Sign of things to come I’m afraid.

18

Let’s be honest Bottas got his **** handed to him on a plate in Bahrain. Yes I’m aware that they over inflated his tyres for the first stint but they didn’t for the 2nd or the 3rd.

Neither Mercedes or Bottas have since come out and said there was an issue with the car. Until they do, or it’s explained otherwise, it simply appears that Bottas didn’t have an answer for Hamilton’s pace.

I’ve never rated Bottas that much. His wet weather performances have been abysmal from memory – worse than Rosberg. So I always had him marked as a decent number 2. Certainly not champion material.

Australia this year and I thought, until Sunday, he was going to be a bad number 2.
Bahrain – ok so Hamilton mucked up his qualifying but still a great lap by Bottas. Maybe, just maybe Bottas is better than I gave him credit for.

Until the race. He could end up being the next Trulli. Great qualifier but disappears during the races.

Wehrlien is currently putting in some stellar performances with the Sauber….

19

Can you imagine Wehrlein (P11 with Sauber in his first race) letting pass Hamilton by orders in his 3rd race?

Bottas is “very well adapted to the team” so Hammy is smiling even after P2

No rude press conference asking team orders or Valteri’s problems, just a long story of one of his advocates explaining a paradox: the faster the driver, the more team helps.

This is F1!

20
Clarks4WheelDrift

I wonder if Mercedes will now give Lewis priority on pit stop undercuts whether he is behind or ahead of Bottas…

Then I wonder if they’ll compromise Bottas’s pit stop windows to make sure he holds up Vettel now and again.

I wonder if they care about the impact on the ‘Mercedes brand’ of stopping Bottas racing with Lewis so early in the season.

Mercedes true racers, aye right!!

21

@CW4D…. Of course they are true racers, they keep telling us that!

22

Clarkes. You are over reaching. We will see what happens but there is no reason to believe that the scenarios you imagine will take place. Bottas was in no position to race Lewis in Bahrain, he was too slow for that.

23

I honestly never thought Ham had a chance of getting Vet, he was just too far back and never had enough over Vet to even catch let alone pass.
Looking at the trace chart its easy to see why though; only 1 small peoblem for Vet and Ham right there, also Ferrari is a one horse (excuse the pun!) for the championship – cant really see Kimi overcoming Seb – while we have already seen Bott taking some of the cream when Ham has a small slip such as in quali.

James, how do you read this situation going forward? There will be plenty of times when Bott is competing with Ham but Vet is never going to see serious pressure from Kimi, it’s a timeless dilemma and one Ferrari will be relieved to not need to manage,
Thoughts people?

24

James. Can you give us any more information on what assistance mercedes have given honda. How can they assist without knowing the ins and outs and full details of the Honda engine. Also why have mercedes felt the need to help and not ferrari and renault?.

25

How to make split compressor and turbine work etc

26

I just wonder if Mercedes is feeling the loss of Paddy Lowe with so many silly errors, over inflating Bottas’ tires, wheel guns not working properly, Hamilton’s DRS not opening. There is no room for these missteps when Ferrari are on top of it, and Vettel comfortable. It will be an interesting season for sure.

27

I think this is a problem that Mercedes have made for themselves in two ways.

a) Creating a car that cannot follow other cars as closely without getting unstable;
b) Toto flipping out whenever his cars have even the slightest touch; I’m sure that Lewis wouldn’t be patiently pursuing for ten laps if he was allowed to risk banging tyres with his team-mate, like in the season that Nico got the most poles, then lost the lead to Lewis before the first corners on lap one.

28

Bottas was good to move over. His pace was way off that of Hamilton’s so it made sense for the team to make the switch. Hamilton probably could have passed him anyway, but why take the risk? Bottas is a pretty strong character so I hope he bounces back with a better race in Sochi. I think the graph above also illustrates that there Bottas was so slow that there was even a threat from Raikkonen behind. Best to release Hamilton and prevent that additional threat too.

A question: why did Hamilton get the penalty on pit entry? He clearly slowed down to stack the pit stop and delayed Ricciardo by doing so, but why is that a penalty? Did he drop below the SC time delta? In Abu Dhabi last year he drove most of the race slowly and that wasn’t a problem. Is there one rule for green flag racing and another for the SC? Personally, I think it’s a great tactic (in both cases). Without that penalty, it would have been a lot closer at the end.

29

I’ve always wondered why, when Ferrari gives team orders, there is always such a massive outcry. But when Mercedes does it, there is hardly a complain. The poll itself shows that people approve even when it was done in just the 3rd race. The THIRD race!!! Give me a break! Mercedes clearly considers Bottas as 2nd rate.
On this same vein, remember the 2006 Monaco “parking” incident. This is what Keke Rosberg had to say about Michael Schumacher:
“He should resign from the Grand Prix Drivers Association and never mention the word safety again. It he was a real man he would have parked the car in the middle of the road and walked away. We would have thought much better of him. It was the worst thing I have seen in Formula One. I thought he had grown up. He is a cheap cheat. He should leave F 1 to honest people.”
Well, well! I don’t remember Keke saying anything when Nico did the exact same thing at Monaco 2014. Yes, yes, he was cleared by the marshalls! I wasn’t born yesterday, and neither were a lot of pundits who were shocked at the clearance.
Going back to Bottas, he is psycologically damaged like DC was permanently damaged by, guess who, Maclaren-MERCEDES. If Ferrari had done this in China, then Vettel would now have been three wins out of three. Then all the Hamilton-Mercedes fans, the Kimi fans, as well as all the Ferrari haters would be screaming bloody murder.
But it’s Lewis, it’s Mercedes. Hell lets just stop racing and give both titles to Lewis and Mercedes.

30

Bottas is a nice guy. But a bit boring and simply not at the same level as Lewis. Perfect no2.
Just goes to show rosberg was very fast and under valued. I hope mercedes try and sign one of the redbull boys to give Lewis something to think about .

31

But a bit boring and simply not at the same level as Lewis. Perfect no2.

I have to say I wonder where you came up with this conclusion.
I presume you don’t know him personally, so the “boring” attribute is just how you perceive him…being finnish (same as Raikkonen, Hakkinen) doesn’t ring any bell, does it?
About him being at the same level as Hamilton or the “Perfect no2”, it’s his 3rd (yes, third) race for Mercedes and he already won a pole.
Being in a new team, getting your head around all the things that are done different, feel different, are different (steering wheels for example) takes time and it is impossible to perform at 100% from the start. Give the man time and some credit, he is improving.

As an example, here are the two steering wheels, the one from 2016 from Williams and the current one from Mercedes.

32
Martin O. Powell

It’s the same for all driver who change teams.

33

At the time I thought it unlikely that Ham could catch and pass Vet especially since Vet was at the front controlling the situation likely with time in hand running on a slower conservative mode. I think Merc should have made Ham pass Bot on track rather than team orders and Ham was so much faster it would not have taken long to pass Bot, so in a sense it doesn’t matter about team orders since they would have ended the race in this order anyways. I thought it was really out of the realm of possibilities that he would have actually caught Vet, but I guess you just never know

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