Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020

Bottas doesn’t understand why he didn’t have the pace to beat Hamilton

2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

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Valtteri Bottas admits he “does not understand” why he lacked pace compared to team mate Lewis Hamilton after he was beaten by 25 seconds in the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Bottas took the early lead after a dramatic opening lap. But Hamilton passed him for the lead on lap 20, and steadily pulled clear of him over the remainder of the race.

The Mercedes driver admitted he had no explanation for the difference in pace between the two team mates.

“The opening lap was pretty good,” says Bottas. “There was a bit of drizzle which made it tricky and some of the cars behind with the soft tyres had the upper hand.

“I was really pleased that I could get the lead but, to be honest, after that I just had no pace today and I don’t understand why. No pace.”

Bottas says he tried to fend off Hamilton’s challenge for the lead but was unable to hold him off in the DRS zone.

“Of course I tried to defend, but the rate he was closing there was nothing really I could do,” Bottas explains.

“Like I said, I don’t really know why I didn’t have the pace today. I was pushing hard but I couldn’t go faster.”

During the race Bottas suggested switching to soft tyres for his final stint, but the team decided to put him on hards. Bottas says it likely would not have changed the outcome of the race.

“I was hoping to extend the first stint in the pits and go to the softs at the end but I don’t think it made a difference to the result at the end today.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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44 comments on “Bottas doesn’t understand why he didn’t have the pace to beat Hamilton”

  1. Yeah, it was a bit of a mystery. He lost about 12 seconds in the 10 laps following his pitstop. I guess it is as Hamilton said – tyre temperature.
    That one also explains the good starts the McLarens and Kimi had – Sainz nicely explained how he had done a lot to get the temps up in his tyres during the warmup lap, and I guess Norris and Kimi must have done the same, since all of them really had a good run.

    Guess that once Hamilton saw/felt what the tyres were doing, he was just waiting for his moment before he pounced. And in the second stint, Hamilton just build and built on that with those fastest laps being quite close to qualifying pace laps, especially when one considers he did them on somewhat old hard tyres.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      25th October 2020, 16:21

      @bascb part of it was Bottas yielding to manifest destiny. Don’t forget Rosberg also yielded to it. Deep down he knows Lewis deserved to win this and win it the way he did. This is the point of no return for Bottas. He’s been beaten and now he’s had to accept it which was the hardest thing for any competitor.

      1. Magical thinking huh?
        Wasn’t at all that, for the second race in a row, Hamilton found the perfect groove for his tyres while Bottas grained his away?
        He even gloated about it mid stint.

      2. Don’t forget Rosberg also yielded to it

        There is at least one year you obviously miss on purpose.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          26th October 2020, 2:42

          Well Nico chose to leave – he knew he couldn’t beat him again.

          1. But he still did it.

            If you gave me a time machine and placed me in a parallel universe were I was somehow able to be a Grand Prix driver and said to me “ok, so Lewis Hamilton will thump you every season except 1, but in that 1 you will win the world championship, do you fancy having a go at this?” I’d take that. Anyone would.

  2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    25th October 2020, 16:06

    I think today is the day that Bottas realized that there’s simply no way he can match Hamilton. Over the past few years, he’s been unwilling to accept that he can’t beat Lewis but today he seemed completely lost unable to look at Martin during the interview. He’s had to accept that there’s nothing he can do to stop Lewis. If he can’t beat him at a new track where he’s quicker, is leading and then couldn’t keep up to the tune of 25 seconds.

  3. Maybe focus on race setup for a change and see if that helps?

    Gambling on softs as a desperate attempt to … well yeah what really? That was just ridiculous. He was already struggling to keep the tyres alive. Perez also couldn’t make his softs last and he pitted later.

    1. If Mercedes had let him run the softs, I think there’s a good chance that Verstappen would have caught him. The softs were horrid race tyres after about five laps.

  4. It is, actually, easy to understand
    Hamilton got mor power in engine
    Mercedes need records, not Botas to win
    Full stop

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      25th October 2020, 16:19

      Mercedes doesn’t need to to do that – Lewis is already breaking records with equal power and finishing 20 seconds ahead.
      The pace difference today was all mental. Once overtaken for the millionth time, Bottas’s brain was 50% focused on the race and how history had not gone the way he was hoping. You’d be shocked how bad any of the best athletes can be when they are slightly affected, much less on tilt. You could actually see it in the interview – Bottas was unable to even look at one spot. I’d be in his shoes, so would you and even the strongest competitors like Michael Phelps might have been. It’s actually surprising he managed to bring the car home but he was probably just on autopilot.

    2. Explain how this works? They can control this power from the pit?

      I mean, Bottas was faster in all practice sessions. Bottas also was faster in quali. He just didn’t manage to put a proper lap together in Q3. Bottas was also leading the race at the start.

      At what point did they change his engine power exactly?

  5. Tyre temperatures, ability to deal with the wind and low adherence (and its effect on tyre wear).

    1. This incident from Bahrain 2019 always sticks in my mind when high winds are a factor: in this case, Hamilton used the fact the head winds had picked up at one corner to pass Vettel, leaning into the wind (extra adherence). That’s just constantly thinking with the changing conditions. Vettel followed with the same pace, but lost traction (also no doubt caused by being in Hamilton’s wake) and spun. Those kind of decisions, about when to take a corner faster or more slowly, are happening constantly at a race like today’s in the Algarve, affecting pace, fuel consumption, brake wear and tyre wear. Over a race distance, they can produce a big gap.

    2. Or to quote Hamilton:

      It it is no secret that today was about tyre temperatures, I felt through the race that I was learning lap on lap more about the circuit. I was trying lots of different lines and discovering new lines that worked well. The wind direction was very tricky, lots of head winds and cross winds and tail winds. There are some you can use to your favour and others get in the way. The key is minimising the loss through the tail winds.

      1. Thanks for that quote from Lewis.

        Some people (even opponents) can underestimate the depth of Lewis’s “on the fly” analytical ability. I particularly appreciate the fact that he just kept on learning about the circuit… trying new lines…. there’s much more to his dominance than simply driving the fastest car.

        1. I think, pretty much like he said he did last race, most of his education came from watching Bottas from a couple of seconds back – just far enough back to preserve his fronts. Watching where Bottas was having difficulty and adjusting his line or velocity to smooth that out. When Bottas grained up, shot past him and opened the gap so that 77 couldn’t learn the same tricks.

        2. @theskeptic No problem. Another part of the quote was also an interesting factor. Hamilton mentioned that he’d set up more for the race, kind of confirming the suspicion that Bottas focuses on one lap (qualifying) pace. I think that’s why Hamilton has so much confidence that he’ll be able to pass Bottas on track. As @didaho says, he can sit back, keeping the tyres in a better state, wait for Bottas to start to lose speed as the tyres worsen and then attack. As Peter Windsor observed (YouTube), Hamilton’s tyre wear in the race was evenly spread, reflecting his natural ‘flat’ style (balancing the car before putting in sharp inputs) while Bottas’s wear was very uneven, leading to the vibrations that caused him to put earlier than he wanted and making the soft tyre option impossible.

  6. Well.

    Good post @bascb, clearly a lot in the early phase of stints at this race was about making sure the tyres were warm enough (and probably then like always, making sure they remain or get back into a good range), and equally clearly Hamilton is just a lot better at that than Bottas.

    I just watched a, rather painful, not because of the questions, but the whole situation, interview with Vettel from RTL DE (last time the team will be at a track this year, or ever, since they lost the rights from 2021 to Sky Germany) where he seems clear he knows where he loses to Leclerc, but hasn’t been able to get that right consistently during the season. And this article, is in some ways worse, because at least Vettel understands the issue, even if he has not solution at Ferrari (talking abt. him and core team clearly indicates he’s on his own in that team now), but Bottas apparently hasn’t really gotten to that point

    Bottas is of course a lot closer to Hamilton than Vettel is to Leclerc, but it will probably not ever be enough often enough.

  7. Bottas is focused on being faster while Hamilton is focused on being thorough. In the end Hamilton will still end up being faster because he would know exactly what to do to find the pace. This is the only weak aspect of Bottas who is undoubtedly a very competent race driver.

  8. It’s called talent. Bottas has a huge amount, but Hamilton will always have just a little bit more.

    1. @fer-no65 I miss him trying more ‘outside the box’ stuff to challenge Lewis, yes. But I do wonder if Bottas isn’t (or wouldn’t be) a little bit faster than him? Since Rosberg left, Hamilton has responded to Bottas and the arrival of Verstappen and Leclerc by improving various aspects of his driving. I think he’d blow Rosberg away now. What would have been better was Ricciardo at Mercedes after Rosberg left.

      1. @david-br
        Rosberg has never been on Lewis’s level talent wise and that was pretty clear since day one. However, he just excels at making him uncomfortable. He was copying his set ups, studying his telemetry, crossing the line sometimes when racing against him… and was constantly getting under his skin by playing mind games.
        One of the reasons that enabled Hamilton to operate at this level is a Rosberg free environment.

        1. @tifoso1989 That’s true, also the fact Mercedes, post-2016, clearly laid down the law to Bottas about what they would find ‘acceptable.’ It would take a driver with a lot of self-confidence and established ‘F1 power’ (grid respect) to challenge that precondition now and risk a few collisions and other off-track tactics – I’d say Verstappen, obviously, Ricciardo and Leclerc. Plus Alonso and Vettel, but I don’t see either as realistic challenges to Hamilton in terms of pace any longer. Also, Mercedes would probably tolerate some aggressive challenges and team disharmony from a younger driver on the basis that they could eventually replace Hamilton.

      2. Rosberg was a better diver than Bottas is, it’s that simple. Rosberg also was better at getting under Lewis’ skin.

  9. How can he not understand this yet?

  10. Hamilton is just faster, not by a lot – but more than that, he races more intelligently.

    Hamilton was passed at the start due to being a little cautious and being on tyres that weren’t ready, but he was able to stay close while preserving his tyres. When the time came when he had a performance overlap, he just drove past Bottas and left him behind. He just has better abilities when the situation demands a calm head and a massively experiences racing brain.
    After the pit stops, Bottas seemed to never really get the tyres into the windows – Hamilton did.

    His ability to have enough pace to stay with his competitors while nursing these Pirelli tyres has been a large part of the difference between Hamilton and Bottas in the last couple of years.

  11. I understand that a racing driver needs to believe he can beat his teammate. On the odd occasions, Bottas can and does beat Hamilton, but I’m afraid that “normal Bottas” can’t beat “normal Hamilton” and “very good Bottas” shows up too rarely (about as rarely as “below par Hamilton”) to make a difference over a whole season.

  12. I’d have to guess the difference is that Lewis adapts to the changing car and environment far better than Bottas. He can challenge during qualifying because things are pretty static, but on race day where things are often changing during the race, Bottas doesn’t seem to be able to deal with it.

  13. Nowadays computer /electronic/ two ways telemetry F1 era, everything can be remotely controlled. Drivers may thinks they got a fair control but it’s not fully exact evidently. From a back-pit secret pc a skilled technician can easy high or cut power output or too/either change car balance of those cars. This wld explain some weird differences, ecs bottas today or vettel by dates..

    1. two ways telemetry F1 era

      That technology was only used between 2002 and 2004 in F1.

    2. There is an article in Psychology Today by Elio Martino PhD, posted 25/10 that you might benefits from. It’s title is ‘this is why you are attracted to conspiracy theories’

      1. @neilsalton Some good general points, but I think the author is very wrong about Trump. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to think Trump might be a white supremacist, it’s virtually blatant in his support for far right groups (and their support for him). Same goes for his authoritarian tendencies. Basically there’s no ‘conspiracy’ involved if we’re talking about the attitudes of one person (Trump). A conspiracy by definition involves a group of people. That’s a category mistake by the author, which kind of undermines the entire premise of his article.

        1. @david-br I mentioned the article for its general point on the conspiracy theory mindset, rather than the specifics on Trump. You are of course correct when you mention that a conspiracy requires a group and not an individual. By coincidence I got caught up in a couple of conversations that degenerated into conspiratorial thinking this weekend and the timing of this comments mades me think ‘oh, not this style of thinking again …’. Thanks for your (normal) insightful comment

          1. @neilsalton I think the author’s addressing a very real contemporary problem and it is to do with our internet-trained cognitive responses to information (confirmation bias, doubling down on a narrative you’ve already adhered to, assuming catastrophic outcomes, filtering out the positive, the ego boost from ‘seeing what’s really happening that other’s doubt’, confusing one’s own emotional distress with someone outside, known or unknown, wanting to cause that distress, b/w thinking…). All good points, thanks for posting it.

  14. I don’t think he can really be surprised any more. I mean in his 3.75 seasons at Mercedes he has won 9 Grand Prix. Hamilton has won 8 this year, and 39 in total while they have been team mates.

  15. Well Valterri guess it’s the difference between very good drivers and great drivers. Fine margins can sometimes make a big difference.

  16. BOT was concerned about some indicator light coming on at one point but the team didn’t seem concerned. I think it is little things like that add up over the course of the race. Earlier in the season he was worried that the black suits were too hot. HAM is able to focus during the race even when he is complaining about his tyres.

    1. when he is complaining

      he put in his best laps..

  17. Am I the only one who suspects that Mercedes team control remotely subotaged Bottas chance for fair competition?

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