Wolff encouraged by ‘real progress’ from Bottas in French GP

2021 French Grand Prix

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says he saw genuine progress at the French Grand Prix from Valtteri Bottas, whose place at the team for next year is in doubt.

Wolff is weighing up whether to replace Bottas with junior driver George Russell in the team’s line-up for the 2022 F1 season.

Bottas ran close behind team mate Lewis Hamilton and race leader Max Verstappen early in the French Grand Prix. Having pitted two laps before Hamilton, Bottas dropped back later in the second stint as their tyres faded. He finished 11 seconds behind his team mate and voiced his displeasure over the team’s strategy on the radio.

Despite his frustration, Bottas scored his first points for three races, and Wolff was satisfied with his performance.

“I still think that he delivered a good race, to be honest, because he was right up there with Lewis and Max for large parts of the race,” said Wolff. “I think the development goes in the right direction, to be honest.

“Yes, there is still a gap in tyre management, but we’ll look at it in the detail [over] the next few days, but I see a real progression with how Valtteri tackles the races and the qualifying we never doubted.”

After seven races out of 23, Bottas lies fifth in the drivers’ championship, 72 points behind leader Verstappen.

Wolff does not believe the speculation over Bottas’ future in the team is related to his improved performance. “Valtteri knows that the only answer to these rumours is to perform on track,” he said.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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29 comments on “Wolff encouraged by ‘real progress’ from Bottas in French GP”

  1. I agree that Bottas had a good race in France.
    And this was not the first time he was close to Hamilton (especially on Saturday).

    And whilst in France it wasn’t the drivers who performed poorly, but rather the strategy guys (probably including Wolff), I still feel that part of Bottas’ relative better performance this year is due to Hamilton seeming to have less A-game races.

    1. Keep your rivals close…wait for McLaren to join in.

    2. I read this as “yeah he did well this race and I’m going to give Bottas a confidence boost, but I’m still not going to hire you next year”. Could be wrong but surely Wolff already has made his decision.

  2. It’s alarming to make “real progress” when finishing 4th, 4 years after being hired.

    1. I don’t think he had a good race either, but finishing 4th this year; whichever driver it is, isn’t such a bad thing I would have thought given how close the RB/Mercs are.

      1. Not a bad thing? Lol. 4th means you end last in this 4 car race and season.

        1. Didn’t mean 4th in the championship, I meant fourth in a race. I can see the confusion in my statement though. I certainly can see a situation this year where Max and Ham are fighting over third. Both Bottas and Perez have shown they are capable of pole, and given the importance of tyre life this year Perez is more than capable of winning a tyre preservation race.

    2. +1
      The only thing that Toto wants to achieve with these comments is increasing the confidence of his driver.

      The WCC and WDC will be heavily influenced by strength of the 2nd driver in each team. They need Bottas for the remaining 15 races, because an intra-season replacement with George would be too disruptive.

      1. @trib4udi For sure I would have to think an intra-season replacement with GR would only risk their WCC standing even further, for as well as he did with his one-off race last year, one would think VB would be the safer bet for WCC points. At the same time I find it incredible that TW needs to boost VB’s confidence. My goodness in a fifth season with the reigning WCC car nonetheless. VB really needs to go after this season. He’s had way more time than he deserves at this point.

        1. @robbie – Thing is this season is already slipping away from him and he must know that his days are numbered at Mercedes. It would be impossible for Bottas’ confidence not to have taken a major hit by now. Toto is just trying everything in his arsenal to get a bit more out of Bottas because his performance is going to have a major impact on who wins the WCC this year.

          Reply moderated
      2. @trib4udi Yes, he’s really laying it on since the unnecessary Monaco bash. Now it’s Bottas good to swear on radio, good to finish 4th.

  3. I get that keeping Bottas wouldn’t be so bad for Mercedes in the short-term, presuming Hamilton stays. However the driver screwed over here is Russell. Wolff has been keeping him stalled in Williams with promises for several seasons. Meanwhile potential drives at other top teams have now vanished: Ferrari have Leclerc and Sainz, great pairing; Red Bull have Verstappen and Perez, they’ll be happy with how the latter is developing; McLaren have Norris and Ricciardo, possibly the only glimmer of a vacancy if Ricciardo can’t sort out his ailing performance, but it’s more probable he will. So TW will have kept Russell parked at Williams with no way out unless it’s to a mid-field team. Is Bottas worthy of 5-years with a championship-winning car? No, he has never once looked likely to pose a challenge. It’s a dreary scenario keeping him for yet another season, and maybe the ‘positive feedback’ is all to keep Bottas’s morale high in a competitive season, but I wouldn’t put it past Mercedes to opt for inertia.

    1. @david-br I don’t think GR is likely sat there right now thinking he has been or is being screwed over. I think he has likely been assured of the Mercedes seat and is just biding his time. I mean, nothing else makes sense to me. I think it is as you and many are thinking in that TW has to boost VB’s morale for now, but to me that in itself is laughable for he has had plenty of time to get plenty closer to LH and this year’s WDC fight, but yet again to no avail. I suppose TW may be feeling the rumours swirling moreso than ever, and therefore has to try to shelter VB from that psychologically, but there is a reason the rumours are likely stronger than ever. Most think VB has had plenty of time and squandered it, and young GR is poised waiting in the wings. I mean…unless TW want to utterly destroy GR’s career morale for the foreseeable future.

      If by inertia you mean keeping VB because that would be somehow easier, I think that ‘dreary scenario’ as you put it is highly unlikely, as since the cars are going to be so vastly different I cannot think of a better time to bring in a new driver and start fresh. Never has continuity from one year to the next meant less, imho, than when the cars are going to be night and day different anyway.

      1. @robbie I’m sure too that GR thinks he has the seat for 2022 but, presuming LH stays, one of Bottas and Russell is set to be disappointed! The more TW tries to convince VB he has a fighting chance of retaining his place, the more you have to wonder if it’s really an option not to promote GR finally. That’s the scenario I’m contemplating. If they don’t then, like I said, the top teams seem to be settled for the short term at least. Or maybe Lewis does leave and the problem vanishes…

        1. @david-br Oh for sure VB will be disappointed ;) but then he will have to look at it realistically that for 5 seasons of having the WCC car he did not ever pose a threat to LH to usurp him from the title like NR managed. That’s just on him. He had the equipment fair and square other than I’d give him the time all drivers should be given to acclimatize to a new car and team for the initial third of the 2017 season.

          I’m 100% confident that LH will not be retiring after this season even if he wins the WDC. He has already said as much (not about whether or not he takes the 8th but about retiring in general). As well, I am 100% sure LH is the type to want the world to know when he is on his last season so that he can enjoy the season long accolades of every race being his last race there and all the ceremony and glad handing and TV coverage that will accompany that. To me there’s no way he will do a season and then do a Rosberg and just walk away. He’ll want the notoriety for his last season. He’s way too entitled to just walk away and leave it at that. Also he’ll be able to answer the season long questions ‘What will you do next?’ so that he can promote his music or his fashion line or what have you. And I’m sure some good and charitable causes that he’ll continue to involve himself in or even create newly.

          1. @robbie The thing is, if Mercedes and LH sort out the contract before the season is over as they’ve promised, then Lewis will be almost certainly pitched in the battle with Max and simultaneously enjoying it but preparing for revenge/his 8th title if he does lose (personally I’m inclined to think it will be MV’s first championship this year). So no, I don’t see a surprise retirement either.

  4. My thoughts are that Bottas’s performance on track is no longer that relevant. Merc needs to keep Russel and I don’t think they’d risk letting another team poach him. His public statement the other week made it very clear that he is ready to move into a front running team…now.

    1. @johnrkh get the impression that Toto realised he’s still Valteri’s manager and now has to find him a seat for 2022?

    2. Hm, well I get what you write there @johnrkh. But the simple fact that Wolff felt the need to highlight it rather shows that it probably IS relevant.

      Whether that is because they badly need Bottas to perform on a solid level to back up Hamilton for the championship AND the team championship, or because he really still has a shot at keeping his seat (I am with you thinking that it’s probably already going to Russel, and that makes a lot of sense), or just because Toto remembered he also manages Bottas’ and being positive about his driver will make it somewhat easier to get him into another race seat than talking his performances down, I cannot judge right now.

      1. @bascb Yes exactly, taking from @johnrkh and @antznz unquestionably VB’s performance is more paramount than ever in his time at Merc so far, to helping LH strategy wise, and to taking points away from Max wherever possible, and to add to their lagging WCC count.

        Since TW is tied to both drivers I can only see the scenario where there will be a driver swap with VB going back to Williams. I know TW claims to have just been having the reporters on the other day when he quipped that he wouldn’t make a driver decision until after the season or even in the winter, which immediately had me saying that could only mean a driver swap, but even with him trying to cover that off by implying he was joking, I still cannot see any other scenario. As the rumours swirl about GR replacing VB, are there any other rumours about where VB would go? Are there any other seats for him?

        I really don’t see how VB has a shot at keeping his seat for next year. Even if he pulls up his bootstraps and somehow manages to help LH more and help them gain back ground in the WCC, I don’t see how having to be boosted to do so, and having done just enough, warrants having a devastated GR sat there watching VB squander and having to be boosted yet again next year…said after what will be 5 seasons of VB having his chance. Enough is enough. Merc need an heir apparent to LH for when he retires two or three seasons from now, and what better time to mould GR to the team than with a brand new chapter, just as VB could go back home to Williams under their new ownership and at the start of a new chapter for them too. And of course he has learned a lot from his experience at Mercedes.

  5. Not that I see it happening, but if Ham gets his 8th championship and does a Rosberg, Toto is going to want a less disgruntled Bottas to stay on with George.
    So maybe he is just trying to keep him sweet?

    1. When Lewis gets #8 he’ll want to get #9 and #10 too.

      1. @greenflag I think you’re right as well. He is one of the hungriest drivers out there on the grid and will keep wanting to win titles and championships.

  6. Tyre management has always been an area of improvement for Bottas, even during the stint at Williams, despite raw pace. I guess its only the close championship competition now that is accentuating the shortcomings after so many seasons at Mercedes.

    1. @pinakghosh Yes, partly due to his smooth style, but I believe also getting flustered a lot. For example, if he gets slightly behind, he will rather spin up the rears to get a good exit out of the corner than try to make up the time somewhere else. But even qualifying he sometimes still struggles to get temperatures balanced on the set of tyres.

  7. Wolff is talking like Bottas is in race 6 like Perez and hasn’t had 4 seasons to get to speed

    1. @broke1984 That was my exact thought when I ready the headline. Along with a chuckle.

    2. To be fair RB have just taken a more convoluted route to get to a reliable No 2 who can do the job. Be an interesting dynamic in RB if he just keeps getting better and better.

  8. Why isn’t anyone acknowledging Bottas performance in Monaco. Especially Mr. Toto. Maybe because he was actually beating Hamilton most of the weekend or is that the team messed up his good result in that pit stop that Toto somehow blamed Bottas for.
    Selective memories.
    Even after all this I still will like to bet on it that Bottas will still be in that Mercedes seat next season. This will prove that Toto is still getting a percentage of the Bottas contract.

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