Amid the George Russell-Valtteri Bottas crash fallout, even Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff pointed out that Bottas shouldn’t have been racing a Williams in the first place.
The accident came shortly after Bottas had been lapped by race leader Max Verstappen and overtaken by Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll for eighth place.
Just after that, Bottas’s second-placed Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton dropped it into the Tosa gravel going off-line to lap Russell in his pursuit of Verstappen.
Had he not done so, Hamilton would have cleared that group as well – and Bottas would have fallen a lap behind the sister car with the race only barely passing half-distance.
In avoiding apportioning total blame to either driver, Wolff acknowledged that “Valtteri had a bad first 30 laps and shouldn’t have been there” to be speared into by Russell when the Mercedes’ protege’s attempt to pass Bottas on the outside went awry because of a rogue slick rear tyre on the damp grass.
And even Bottas, after making it clear he blamed Russell for the incident and felt Mercedes shared his view, admitted: “The main thing we need to focus on is why I was in that position.
“I had quite a struggle with the inters, being stuck behind Lance all through the inter section of the race and when I stopped [to change to slick tyres on the drying track] I got pressure from the guys behind who stopped earlier and got their tyres working already, so that was the bigger issue.”
Bottas was in the pack to begin with because of a bizarrely difficult qualifying session. While Hamilton claimed a surprise pole position, Bottas was only eighth. Mercedes put that down to tyre warm-up issues as well.
Bottas had gone quicker in Q1 than he managed in Q3, but that was because he had several runs on the same tyre. When it came to switching the softs on for the final single-lap runs in Q3, Bottas struggled.
He also fared much worse than Hamilton in the wet conditions on Sunday, although track position likely exacerbated that situation. Hamilton was much slower than Verstappen on the opening laps of the grand prix, further impeding himself by front wing endplate damage picked up in their minor contact at the first corner on the start.
But Bottas never looked like hauling himself out of the midfield. It had shades of his awful Turkish Grand Prix last year, when Mercedes was also hurt by tyre warm-up. And it was a similar story in how the two drivers handled it – Hamilton went on to win in Turkey, while Bottas spun several times in the race.
“It is a bit of an overall thing with our car, over the years, we quite often struggled in hot conditions and cold has been normally good because we’ve had good tyre warm-up,” said Bottas.
“We’ve been really trying to develop the car so that we didn’t overheat the tyres, but that’s obviously with a negative that if we need to quickly get temperature in the tyres, maybe some other cars can do it better than us.
“For me, compared to Lewis it’s so in the knife edge in the qualifying. Sometimes you get it to work, like for me in Q1, when I did a much faster time than in Q3, I got them to work, but for some reason I just couldn’t get them to work in Q3 the same way.
“It’s all about one or two degrees of surface or tyre bulk temperature. It’s hard to explain, track temp was changing a bit depending on how much there was cloud etc. So maybe that had a bit of a factor.”
The manner in which Bottas’s weekend fell away was alarming as his struggles seemed to appear overnight after he had topped Friday practice.
His crash with Russell robbed him of any points at all but he’d have likely faced repeat and no-doubt annoying questions about his title challenge already being over anyway.
Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said Bottas had been in a “good position” and “very happy” with the car after practice, and admitted there is “something we need to understand” about why Bottas’s tyre warm-up issues in qualifying were so severe.
“The thing with tyre temperature though is often a very small difference has a very big impact on grip,” said Shovlin.
“Unfortunately for Valtteri he was just on the wrong side of a lot of cars and a very compromised start position. That’s something we’ve got to go off and work on with him and help him understand.
“Then in the race, he was struggling following and being able to overtake, just because he was losing front end in the tow, but also the rear wasn’t strong and again, it was that theme that warm-up was the problem for him.”
As Bottas mentioned, he was caught by the group that included Russell – and passed by Stroll – because he stopped to switch to medium tyres after them, and couldn’t get them to work as quickly.
So the same factor that compromised his race to begin with also played a key role in how it ended.
“He got caught in that bunch of cars, some were backmarkers, Max was coming through as the leader, and that was really what triggered the sequence that ended his race,” said Shovlin.
“There had been bits in the weekend where he had looked very strong and parts of the weekend where he actually looked like he was going to give Lewis a very tough time.
“All the negatives are coming down to this issue of warm-up in those conditions and we know we need to find a solution to that. If we do that the rest of it should click into place.”