Was Mugello proof that Bottas is being prevented from success?
Mercedes’ strategy call at Mugello paid off for Lewis Hamilton, but left former race-leader Valtteri Bottas thinking about what could have been.
High tensions between the Silver Arrows
During the second of this season’s three scheduled Italian Grands Prix at Mugello, Valtteri Bottas - who had looked marginally quicker than his teammate for much of the weekend - was growing increasingly frustrated; after the restart on Lap 10 following the first of two red flags, Hamilton used his teammate’s slipstream to glide past into Poggio Secco (Turn 1) and usurp Bottas’ role of race leader.
After this pivotal move was executed, Bottas noted on the radio that he had picked up some vibrations on his front tyres, and fired the curt message, “for the second tyre set, I want the opposite to Lewis” at his engineer.
Chief Strategist James Vowles had other plans however, pitting Bottas on Lap 31 to fit Hard tyres, and Hamilton soon after to fit the same compound - a blatant disregard to Valtteri’s request at first glance.
Mercedes explains the decision that determined the race
Though it seems to be morphing into a trend at Mercedes, with the team claiming they have no intention to prioritize one driver over another and then opting to put Hamilton in clear air with Bottas playing catch-up, Vowles explained that the logic behind the strategy call at Mugello was made to preserve the longevity of both drivers’ tyres.
“Towards Lap 30 of the race, both cars were on mediums and going into their stints,” he explained afterwards. “We’d expected to stop just one more time before the end of the race. We started to notice around Lap 29, Lap 30 a vibration on Valtteri’s front tyres that was getting more and more significant. It was reminiscent of what we saw at Silverstone, so this time we wanted to prevent any incidents from occurring.
“As a result of that, instead of boxing Lewis first - because he had the priority - we brought Valtteri in, and we reviewed what the best compound would be to fit in that circumstance. Given the Medium degradation was higher than expected, and given that this stint was slightly shorter than we’d wanted to do, and that we had the lead to the field, we opted for the Hard tyre.”
Always one step behind
Despite Vowles’ quite rational explanation, it does seem as though success on a consistent level tends to hover just out of Bottas’ reach, even on a weekend during which he has more favorable performance than his teammate, such as last week at Mugello; the Finn topped all three practice sessions but fell short in qualifying and the race itself.
“We discussed it,” confirmed team principal Toto Wolff. “Valtteri wanted to have a strategic option with the tyre offset. But then obviously everything turned upside down. I can’t even remember which lap he came in but everything was different afterwards.”
To make matters worse for relations at Mercedes, there appears to be a noticeable difference in the team’s reactions to success from Hamilton versus Bottas; the celebrations that ensue when the latter takes pole position on a Saturday or victory on a Sunday come across as rather subdued - giving the impression that the team is more pleased when their Championship-winning driver pulls a win out of the bag.
Is Bottas confined to his current position long-term?
Valtteri Bottas has previously and openly admitted that being teammate to Lewis Hamilton and constantly leaving a race weekend second best is a “pain in the rear end”, but has the extent of that frustration been concealed? Can the Finn in fact have any chance at all of being crowned World Champion while Hamilton is occupying the second Mercedes seat, or will he have to bide his time until The King bows out?