Valtteri Bottas’s apparent reluctance to let Lewis Hamilton through rapidly in the closing stages of the Spanish Grand Prix has not caused a team orders flashpoint at Mercedes – but Toto Wolff has intimated it might have been a different matter had Hamilton not gone on to win.
Hamilton had fallen to third behind Bottas when he made a second pitstop in a bid to wrongfoot Max Verstappen and Red Bull in their lead battle.
The world champion closed a 10s gap to Bottas in seven laps and Mercedes made clear to Bottas that Hamilton was on a different strategy, lapping faster and in a battle for victory.
But Bottas did not move aside instantly as expected, and Hamilton actually lost time to Verstappen on that lap as he had to pass his team-mate into Turn 10.
“I definitely could have let him by earlier, but I was doing my own race as well,” Bottas told Sky Sports F1 immediately after the race, adding: “They told me not to hold him up too much, but like I said, I was also doing my race and I’m not here to let people by”.
Wolff acknowledged that Bottas’s reaction was not what Mercedes was hoping for, but played it down on the grounds that Hamilton had still gone on to pass Verstappen and win the race.
“We would have wished that maybe because Lewis was on a totally different strategy he would have come through faster, a bit quicker, but at the end we we scored the result,” said Wolff.
“And I can relate to Valtteri that he had a tough day again, and you’re annoyed.
“If it would have lost us the race I would be more critical, but at the end this is something we can learn off, and it goes both directions. And this is what we will be discussing but in a very camaraderie-like way.”
Hamilton expressed surprise that Bottas had even been asked to let him past, as he assumed he had to overtake him in a straight fight.
“Honestly I didn’t know that he had a message,” said Hamilton, who also reiterated his belief that he and Bottas are “the best team-mates” on the grid.
“So in my mind I was like ‘we’re racing’, and that’s totally fine for me, particularly early on in this part of the season
“I was going to get him at some stage because I had much better tyres, and we were going into Turn 10 and I thought there was a gap there and I wasn’t quite sure and then there was a gap and Valtteri was completely fair. I hope I didn’t lose him too much time.
“This is how we win as a team, sometimes we’re in that position where you’ve just got to put the team first and getting a second and a third is good but getting a first is obviously max points. And that was key.”
Bottas explained that he was also trying to be conscious of building a gap to the fourth-placed Ferrari of Charles Leclerc at the time ahead of potential second pitstops for both.
“Unless something crazy would happen I wasn’t really fighting with him anymore,” said Bottas of Hamilton.
“But the thing was, at that time I was trying to get Charles off my pit window so that I could stop again and try and be ahead of him.
“So I was really conscious that I don’t want to lose too much time, and I was really focusing on my race.
“It’s about balancing things, of course as a racing driver you prioritise yourself, your race, because that’s what you do, but also we work as a team.
“So you don’t want to ruin the win for the team, if that is possible, if it’s not possible for you.
“I tried to do the best thing I could for us as a team and for myself, and it’s always hard doing those kind of things, even as the other driver if he predicts what’s going to happen and where to go but in the end was kind of OK.”