Valtteri Bottas’s pole position in Bahrain set the Finnish driver up to take his first ever win in Formula 1. However, things didn’t go to plan, and Bottas ended up finishing in 3rd.
Bottas got a great launch of the line and held the lead comfortably into turn one, as Sebastian Vettel swept around the outside of Lewis Hamilton. But Bottas failed to make any kind of a break from Vettel, and instead lead a five car train comprising of himself, Vettel, Hamilton and the two Red Bulls. This looked to be either Bottas being ice cool and attempting to back the pack into Hamilton or his actual full potential. But it was neither of those things.
“Our generator broke on the grid and we couldn’t bleed Valtteri’s tyres so we were starting with the completely wrong tyre pressures on his car. We knew he would be struggling. [With] Sebastian running second, there is nothing we could have done, and that opened up the opportunity for them to undercut us. They did it – they did it quite early and that made them win the race.”
– Toto Wolff
What actually happened was a generator failed on the grid prior to the race, meaning the Mercedes team couldn’t bleed Bottas’ tyres. This meant his tyre pressures were much higher than they should have been, and everyone else around him had the correct pressures. This allowed Vettel to put even more unwanted pressure on the Finn and undercut them prior to the safety car for the Lance Stroll/Carlos Sainz cock up. The double stack pitstop then left Bottas in second behind Vettel, and whilst he wrestled for the lead after the restart he couldn’t get it back. Nor could he stay with the Ferrari either.
“Stint one, we can explain the performance with the tyre pressures being just way too high. It was feeling like on marbles. Stint two and three, there is no explanation why the rear end wasn’t working. The slow pace was definitely because of the balance and because of the rear end, so we have no answers yet what was causing it. For me, it wasn’t normal. I was running out of all the tools with the diff and with the brake bias, trying to cure the oversteer and trying to improve the stability from the rear, but there was no way.”
– Valtteri Bottas
The reasons why Bottas could not stick with Vettel aren’t clear from a Mercedes perspective, although Vettel, with clean air in scorching form might suggest reason. He struggled for pace throughout the rest of the race and twice let Hamilton through due to team orders, although his lack of pace would probably have meant the Briton passed him anyway. But why was Bottas so far off the pace? One reason could be down to the new 2017 tyres. Whilst they work great when they are in the window, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said the window for them to work is “a lot peakier”. This means there is a much narrower window for the car to work with the tyres than there was in 2016. This could explain Bottas’ issues. Another reason could simply be what whilst his qualifying setup was great, it wasn’t really a race setup. Mercedes themselves couldn’t find an answer and team and driver were puzzled as Sunday drew to a close.
It is a puzzling thing as the long runs on Friday for Bottas were great and on a par with Hamilton and Vettel. Whilst this race was disappointing for Bottas, he proved on Saturday that he can beat Hamilton over a single lap. He will bounce back and be on the British driver’s case.
Sochi has been a happy hunting ground for the ex-Williams driver previous Russian Grand Prix – consistently in the top three in qualifying including a front row start last year, a podium in 2014 and a strong P4 in 2016. And lets not forget he was on course for a podium too in 2015 before his last lap crash with Kimi Raikkonen. Bahrain was an up and down affair for Bottas, the proof of great qualifying pace was there, but it was a strategically awkward race for Mercedes as a whole.
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) April 17, 2017