Lewis Hamilton claims that he did not want team orders to be implemented in the Russian Grand Prix and that team-mate Valtteri Bottas deserved the victory at the Sochi Autodrom.
In an event where championship rivals Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were making errors, on-form Bottas was denied his first win of the season when Mercedes made the call to switch race-leader Bottas and Hamilton.
Bottas was undoubtedly the driver of the weekend; A rare mistake for Hamilton in qualifying went unpunished due to the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari in Russia, whilst Vettel was unable to take advantage of Mercedes’ poor pit stop timing by making a mistake in the third sector when under pressure from Hamilton, allowing the Briton to re-pass him and claim back second place.
The subsequent team orders allowed Hamilton to increase his championship lead over Vettel – who finished the race in third – by ten points instead of three and give him a commanding 50-point advantage in the drivers’ standings.
It has echoes of the 2002 Austrian GP where Ferrari initiated team orders and Michael Schumacher tried on the podium to make out that Rubens Barrichello was the rightful winner. That controversy triggered a temporary ban on team orders.
“It’s the strangest day l can remember in the sport,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 after the race. “He [Bottas] was an incredible gentleman. The team took the decision. It’s very weird to feel down.
“It’s definitely the win on my list of wins that l am least proud of.”
When asked in the press conference about the team orders, Hamilton said that despite not wanting team orders, he accepted that Mercedes wanted the position change.
“Honestly, when I got the call that they had said that to Valtteri, I don’t know if you heard me but I said “just tell him to speed up.” They told me on the radio “Valtteri is going to let you go,” which is not what I wanted, and I said: “just tell him to speed up,” because I had Sebastian on my tail, getting quite close,” said Hamilton.
“Naturally passing him did not feel good in that instant in Turn 13, and I didn’t know what was planned for the end. I was waiting to get some news or something like that but I knew that the team wanted it to end that way.
“If they had made that call, that confirmed to me they wanted it to end that way. But honestly, it’s very, very hard to find the right words. It’s very strange feeling. We’ve had a 1-2, we’ve dominated as a team this weekend, the team has done an incredible job and it’s obviously never, ever in my whole life been the way I’ve wanted to win a race.
“I just want to shine it on to Valtteri. There are not many team-mates who would do something like that.”
Wolff takes blame for pit stop timings, explains team orders call
Mercedes’ race plans almost came unravelled when the call was made to pit Hamilton two laps after Bottas, as opposed to one.
With Bottas being the race leader, he was given priority at the pit stops, but Hamilton made his stop two laps later, allowing Vettel an opportunity for undercutting his championship rival, which he managed to do.
When asked about the pit stop scenario, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted fault by saying he distracted Mercedes’ strategist James Vowles at the wrong time.
“We got tangled up in the way we called the pitstops,” said Wolff. “We did the right thing by calling Valtteri in first, that it would have protected his position, but we were one lap too late with Lewis.
“I’ll take it on me, because I was engaging with James [Vowles] in a conversation when he should have made the call. And this is why he came in a lap too late and lost position.
“While we were considering what to do, I was in exchange with James, and this made us pit one lap too late.”
He went on to explain that the call to switch Bottas and Hamilton was made when Hamilton blistered his tyre when passing Vettel for second place.
“Lewis had to fight hard to overtake Sebastian, which was really an awesome move, but blistered the tyres. And then we were in a situation that Valtteri in front managed the tyres, Lewis behind with a blistered rear and Sebastian all over Lewis.
“And at that stage, there were two possible outcomes. The best case would have been it stays like it is and we finish second with Lewis and win with Valtteri, the worst case was the blister wouldn’t last until the end and Lewis would have been overtaken by Sebastian in order to manage his tyres.
“This is why I think Valtteri in between was the call we made. Rationally, it was the right call to do, but our sporting heart says no.”
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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