Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Monza, 2021

Mercedes braced for “difficult” call as Bottas leads Hamilton into sprint qualifying

2021 Italian GP Pre-Sprint Qualifying analysis

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Mercedes face an obvious dilemma heading into Saturday’s sprint qualifying race, to decide the grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

Their top world championship contender starts from second on the grid behind his team mate. Pole-winner Valtteri Bottas has already helped the team’s leading driver maximise his points score this year.

The team cannot afford to leave Bottas out ahead until the end of the race and take points off Lewis Hamilton. That much was clear when they told him not to set the fastest lap at Zandvoort, and it is just as true this weekend.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is not relishing the call he may well have to make. “I don’t want to talk about that yet because we are not in a situation that we’re running first and second on the road,” he said on Friday evening.

“If that were the case, then for sure there is decisions that are to be discussed that are very difficult from a racers’ standpoint. And I’m speaking about myself, I don’t like any of this.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monza, 2021
Report: Norris sees chance to fight Verstappen for third
But he left it in no doubt that if the team wants Bottas to let Hamilton then, just as they did at Sochi three years ago, it’s going to happen. “This championship is so tight that these calls need to be made.”

Of course there are many ways it might not come to that, though no doubt Wolff would relish the likeliest options even less. Max Verstappen might split the Mercedes pair at the start and finish the race in between them. Not only would that take another point off Hamilton, it would put Verstappen on pole position for the grand prix, after Bottas has taken his power unit change penalty.

Or we could see some kind of drama at the start. The extremely tight Rettifilio chicane and the narrow run down to it offers plenty of scope for drivers to get into trouble. The cars chasing the two Mercedes drivers away from the grid will have the benefit of a slipstream from them.

The temptation for Mercedes to choreograph the start will be strong. They are well-placed to box Verstappen in and help the two McLarens, with their strong top speeds, to take a pop at him. The McLaren pair also have a championship situation to consider, however: Their starting positions give them a significant chance to cut into Ferrari’s points advantage.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Monza, 2021
Perez needs to do some passing in sprint qualifying
It’s going to be a nail-biting start to the race. From there on it remains to be seen, but several drivers have given pessimistic assessments of the likelihood of being able to pass.

All drivers have a free tyre choice for both races this weekend. Pirelli suspect the majority will opt for medium on Saturday, though some may risk starting on the soft, as at Silverstone, in a bid to gain places. However the potential benefit of doing that is expected to be less at Monza than it was at the first sprint qualifying race.

Mercedes split the tyre strategies between their two drivers in the first sprint qualifying race at Silverstone as they tried, unsuccessfully, to get third-placed Bottas ahead of second-placed Verstappen. The soft tyre gamble could make sense for Red Bull this time as they bid to move Sergio Perez forward from his ninth place on the grid into a position where he can help Verstappen again in the grand prix.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’20.6851’20.032 (-0.653)1’19.555 (-0.477)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’20.5431’19.936 (-0.607)1’19.651 (-0.285)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’21.0351’20.229 (-0.806)1’19.966 (-0.263)
4Lando NorrisMcLaren1’20.9161’20.059 (-0.857)1’19.989 (-0.070)
5Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’21.2921’20.435 (-0.857)1’19.995 (-0.440)
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’21.4401’20.556 (-0.884)1’20.260 (-0.296)
7Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’21.1181’20.750 (-0.368)1’20.462 (-0.288)
8Charles LeclercFerrari1’21.2191’20.767 (-0.452)1’20.510 (-0.257)
9Sergio PerezRed Bull1’21.3081’20.882 (-0.426)1’20.611 (-0.271)
10Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’21.1971’20.726 (-0.471)1’20.808 (+0.082)
11Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’21.3941’20.913 (-0.481)
12Lance StrollAston Martin1’21.4151’21.020 (-0.395)
13Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’21.4871’21.069 (-0.418)
14Esteban OconAlpine1’21.5001’21.103 (-0.397)
15George RussellWilliams1’21.8901’21.392 (-0.498)
16Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’21.925
17Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’21.973
18Mick SchumacherHaas1’22.248
19Robert KubicaAlfa Romeo1’22.530
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’22.716

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Valtteri Bottas26.680 (1)26.522 (1)26.353 (3)
Lewis Hamilton26.734 (3)26.607 (2)26.310 (2)
Max Verstappen26.862 (6)26.703 (4)26.401 (4)
Lando Norris26.716 (2)26.803 (7)26.407 (5)
Daniel Ricciardo26.775 (4)26.904 (8)26.300 (1)
Pierre Gasly26.991 (9)26.614 (3)26.601 (7)
Carlos Sainz Jnr26.993 (10)26.760 (5)26.587 (6)
Charles Leclerc27.026 (13)26.802 (6)26.662 (9)
Sergio Perez26.942 (7)26.923 (9)26.647 (8)
Antonio Giovinazzi26.822 (5)27.029 (11)26.804 (11)
Sebastian Vettel27.105 (15)27.011 (10)26.797 (10)
Lance Stroll27.010 (11)27.029 (11)26.897 (12)
Fernando Alonso27.011 (12)27.143 (13)26.909 (13)
Esteban Ocon26.953 (8)27.236 (14)26.914 (14)
George Russell27.077 (14)27.270 (15)26.969 (15)
Nicholas Latifi27.201 (16)27.599 (18)27.125 (17)
Yuki Tsunoda27.295 (19)27.313 (16)27.036 (16)
Mick Schumacher27.225 (17)27.494 (17)27.529 (20)
Robert Kubica27.345 (20)27.752 (20)27.433 (18)
Nikita Mazepin27.251 (18)27.742 (19)27.503 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes344.6 (214.1)
2Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari342.3 (212.7)-2.3
3George RussellWilliamsMercedes341.9 (212.4)-2.7
4Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes341.4 (212.1)-3.2
5Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari341.1 (211.9)-3.5
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari340.9 (211.8)-3.7
7Robert KubicaAlfa RomeoFerrari340.8 (211.8)-3.8
8Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes340.2 (211.4)-4.4
9Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault339.9 (211.2)-4.7
10Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes338.5 (210.3)-6.1
11Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes338.4 (210.3)-6.2
12Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes338.3 (210.2)-6.3
13Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari337.8 (209.9)-6.8
14Sergio PerezRed BullHonda336.4 (209.0)-8.2
15Esteban OconAlpineRenault335.8 (208.7)-8.8
16Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari335.8 (208.7)-8.8
17Max VerstappenRed BullHonda334.6 (207.9)-10.0
18Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes334.4 (207.8)-10.2
19Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda334.3 (207.7)-10.3
20Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda332.1 (206.4)-12.5

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2021 Italian Grand Prix

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Author information

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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85 comments on “Mercedes braced for “difficult” call as Bottas leads Hamilton into sprint qualifying”

  1. If Mercedes are going to keep holding Bottas back to help Hamilton that’s fine, it’s a team sport, but I wish they would be honest and say it instead of saying how their drivers are equal and they’re fair to both of them.

    I think unless Russell gets up to speed very quickly it could well be the same next year to.

    1. “If Mercedes are going to keep holding Bottas back to help Hamilton that’s fine, it’s a team sport, but I wish they would be honest and say it instead of saying how their drivers are equal and they’re fair to both of them.”

      Why pretend they’re not being honest, both drivers are equal, until one is no longer in the title fight, then they are more of a 2nd driver, whats hard to understand? Same situation with Perez right now, same situation with Raikkonen in Ferrari when Vettel was fighting Hamilton for the title.

      I’m actually getting tired of this.

      1. N

        Why pretend they’re not being honest, both drivers are equal, until one is no longer in the title fight, then they are more of a 2nd driver, whats hard to understand? Same situation with Perez right now, same situation with Raikkonen in Ferrari when Vettel was fighting Hamilton for the title.

        Bottas still have a mathematical chance to win the WDC :)
        Besides, Mercedes has been using him as wingman since the 4th of this season in Spain. Raikkonen was allowed to race Vettel once he’s been told he’ll be out of the team and Ferrari even asked Vettel to move out of his way when he was fighting Hamilton un the 2018 US GP.

        1. @tifoso1989
          Here we go AGAIN.
          TIfoso doing tifosi’s thing.

          1. Here we go again.
            Take a chill pill.

    2. @glynh
      to be fair, hamilton earned his grades with Bottas, it’s not that mercedes started favouring him from the get go.
      Russell won’t let Lewis any space.
      I do believe George will immediately be quicker.

      1. Lewis is the greatest driver of all time. He no longer in his prime (IMO), let’s see. I know one thing, he’ll be extremely happy with his achievements when he hangs his hat.

        1. The greatest driver of all times is Schumacher, he won 91 races and started on pole on 68, which means he could make the difference in race even when his car was not at the top, Unlike Ham who has almost an equal number between poles and wins, which means his cars were almost always the best car on grid
          Ham is the one with more numbers, but he is not the greatest driver on track and racecraft

          1. “Hamilton is worse than Schumacher because he has more poles”.

            Interesting analysis.

            Wait until you hear about this Brazilian kid from the ’80s

          2. We’ve seen A LOT of races where both Ham and Msc started from pole and easily won, they had a dominant car for years in their career, and we all know it’s a lot easier winning from pole
            What I see also is that Msc won 23 races not from pole, this means that he could achieve big results even when the car was not the best on grid (93, 96 to 98)

          3. Also the Brazilian kid and Michael races in eras when the cars broke every two or three races, Hamilton is an era when you are unlucky if you have one dnf all season. This proves my point even more imo

          4. Or maybe all it proves is that Schumacher consistently underperformed in qualifying, and raced in an era where fuel loads determined the qualifying order?

          5. “let’s put more fuel in our car, so Michael can start behind the others”
            Yeah of course

          6. @Manto

            That is not how it worked. The cars with higher fuel loads could stay longer on the track, while those that pitted earlier had to refuel and their cars were significantly heavier to the cars that were still on the track (with very low fuel). That is how overtaking was done off track in the refueling era.

            Ferrari did that very often because they knew their (heavier) car could easily keep up with the (lighter) competitor cars.

          7. Manto, yes, teams did use that tactic during the refuelling era – teams were prepared to sacrifice a little bit in qualifying to set themselves up with a better fuel load for the race, and Ferrari did tend to prefer to have slightly more margin on their fuel loads for the first stint of a race than some of their rivals, who were more prepared to gamble on a slightly lighter fuel load.

            There were quite a few times in 2002 and 2004 where Schumacher wasn’t qualifying on pole in either the F2002 or F2004 – but I doubt you would say that those cars were inferior to their rivals.

            As an aside, if you do want to go down that route, proportionally speaking, Schumacher’s record isn’t the best out there – there are other drivers with much better records than Schumacher has.

            In terms of the ratio of pole positions to races won, Prost significantly beats Schumacher with his ratio of 54 wins to 33 poles – Schumacher would have needed to win 105 races from 68 poles to match that success rate. Meanwhile, Stewart was even further ahead with his 27 wins from 17 poles – Schumacher would have needed to win 108 races from 68 poles to match Stewart’s success rate.

            There are also quite a few drivers who are considered to be some of the greatest in the history of the sport who have records that are worse than Hamilton – both Fangio and Clark, to name two, won fewer races than they had pole positions (Fangio had 24 wins from 29 poles and Clark 25 wins from 33 poles). Are they not great drivers because they have ratios below 1 when it comes to converting pole positions to victories?

          8. Also Schumacher or Senna never had DRS which is effectively a cheat code especially when your car is seconds faster than the rest meaning drivers barely defend against Hamilton as it’s pointless. Alonso is probably the only driver outside of Verstappen to actually put up a fight against Hamilton this year. In the days of Senna and Schumacher it was far tougher.

          9. Bru, whilst there wasn’t DRS, it is worth noting that there could also be much larger gaps in performance between teams (particularly in Senna’s day), which could make a passing attempt much easier to begin with.

            If you were to go back 30 years and to compare the 1991 Italian GP to the 2021 Italian GP – arbitrarily picked as overlapping with the latter part of Senna’s career and the beginning of Schumacher’s career – the field spread of, say, the top 10 back in 1991 is the field spread of the top 15 now – and that was relatively close for that season.

            Go back to the 1991 Hungarian GP to see what happens at a circuit with more corners, and you had a field spread where the entire field in 2021 would fit in the gap between pole and 8th place on the grid in 1991. For the Spanish GP, the top 14 in the 2021 race would have fitted within the gap for the top 8 in 1991.

            Senna or Schumacher might not have had DRS, but there were times when they might have had rather larger technological advantages. Senna and Schumacher, for example, both had times when their cars were equipped with active suspension systems that only some teams could afford to fit; there were times when they had semi-automatic transmission systems when rival teams still used H-pattern manual transmissions, or drove cars that had driver aids that were not fitted to other cars.

        2. @swifty
          Not even by far.
          Not even in the top 5 all time.
          Maybe not in the top 10

    3. I genuinely believe Wolff doesn’t like to make these calls, but knows he must sometimes.
      I think Mercedes values long term relationships rather than quick fixes with their drivers.

      1. I also believe he genuinely doesn’t like to make these calls, but it’s because he knows it looks bad PR-wise.

    4. It’s “team sport” only in team championship, so if Bottas comes 1st and Hamilton 2nd, there is no need to switch them round since team gets same points.

  2. Team ouders during a race are understandable but falsification of the race order should lead to disqualification.

    1. @erikje

      Disclaimer: Erikjes rules apple arbtrary to People aka (Lewis Hamilton) he doesnt like.

      1. Wrong, I am even an admirer of Lewis. Not of his on track moaning and not of totos manipulation.
        So totally wrong.. Try again.
        Match fixing always should be punished.

        1. Redbull forced Perez out of a good point scoring position just to steal fastest lap point from Hamilton.
          Perez could have scored 4 points or more which would have helped the team in the constructors, but ended scoring only 1, which has helped to get Max ahead of Hamilton.
          Not much moaning from you then.

          1. Redbull is fighting with one driver two faster cars.
            So yes, team orders are normal. Even the embarrassing ones for bottas.
            But match fixing is another level. M

        2. We’ve heard Max moan many times, He just disguises it by swearing like a docker…

          1. Still, no moaning there. Lewis moaning Hamilton on the other hand…

        3. I think you are mixing f1 and football. In this sport drivers championship is more valuable than teams championship. No cared who won the teams champuonship during MSC times, no one wants to remember if ferrari won. Kimi, gasly, perez all let their teams pass, so why are so hurt when mercedes wants to do it. They openly admit in the past years when its tight they prioritize the driver who has more chance, and mathematical chance is not important.

          1. @TurboBT Actually F1 is a constructors championship that added the drivers championship in 1957. The constructors title has been the focus of the teams until recently with the appearance of RB and Haas. It will be interesting to see with the strict new chassis regs how it will end up.

    2. Funniest comment I’ve ever read on this site.

  3. Yes, very difficult, It is almost unthinkable that Bottas race engineer will call him in a open radio message to switch places.
    Can you imagine if they leak a message like “Valteri, this is James…” It could never happen.

    1. Come on, they already did in Austria, at race 8, when they forbade him to overtake Hamilton. Of course they changed their mind when somebody got flashbacks to Austria 2002, but it was still said, and after the fastest lap message in Zandvoort last race, they will have no compunction about it now.

  4. ” – Valteri, it’s James ! Let Lewis pass !
    – Krrrrr, can’t hear … kkrrrr … radio problem …. faster ? ok ! “

  5. Lewis will blow by Bottas on Lap 3 with DRS. With or without team orders.

    1. @greenflag
      Maybe. Still, his quali defeat would hurt a lot.
      Not a great show from the supposed goat.

      1. Like Pele/Maradona never missed a penalty.
        Bottas is a strong qualifier and nothing to be ashamed of if he starts in front of you.

        1. @jff
          What comparison is that, lol?
          Verstappen lost to Perez ONCE this year.
          Lewis way more.
          Bottas is always superclose to Lewis.
          Ask yourself why.

      2. Hurt a lot? Are you drunk on hate? Your comments are loose lipped and scream “I’m new to F1”.

        When he retires, he’ll be GOAT. Fact.

        1. He’s the same guy who can’t take a chill pill over people making fun of Emilia Romagna’s GP name.

        2. The LOAT Luckiest of all time

        3. @Switfy
          Again: not even by far.
          And, as far as the “drunk” suggestion, it probably speaks volumes about YOUR habits, dude

      3. You conclusions are weird? The smell more like desperate houswives, contrary to strategetly sound decesions for the benefit of set goal.

        What is that goal you say? @fantomius

        1. I see an blind Lewis fan attacking other opinions.

          1. I see blind Max fans with adding zero value, your point?

      4. Can you please take your motoGP style bashing nonsense to motoGP forums, please.

        1. Can you please argument? Oh. Apparently not

  6. If Mercedes want Hamilton to win his 8th WDC then if the situation arises the call is an easy one, the bigger question is that if they issue teams orders will Bottas comply.

    1. He did comply last week, but only after showing that he did not agree.

    2. Agree, it’s an easy call.

      It’s just a simple empirical analysis when looking how to win the championship and odds of both drivers. Bottas is almost 100 points behind Ham in the championships, It’s game over for him and they’re spending $100’s of millions on this, that’s $3 million per week for 52 weeks; there’s no room for emotion for person in such a large team trying to figure out how to win. Sounds harsh but typical in other sports. Just look at the Tour de France and domestiques.

  7. Let’s just hope Norris will use the tow and get by both Mercedes. Toto and Lewis have made the sport into something no-one wants to see. Fixing results, punting opponents and whining about the competition if things don’t go their way. Cannot wait for Russel to blow Hamilton away a few races…

    1. It’s still a team sport.
      Ever watched the Tour the France where 9 #2’s help the #1 to win the individual standings?

    2. So just out of interest what did you post when RB called Perez in at Silverstone, where he and the team threw away WCC and WDC points just to stop Ham getting FLAP, to assist Max?

      1. Perez wasn’t in the points when Red Bull called him in, plus Mercedes losing 1 point is the same as Red Bull gaining 1 in the constructors.

        1. Perez was in 10th when he was called in, and even believed he could have ended up 7th.

          Stop lying.

    3. I despise Toto hypocrisy too, but I wonder why so many people thinking that Russel can beat Lewis from the get go. No, that almost impossible.

  8. The cheek of Merc pretending team orders to BOT have at any point been difficult… When the team boss calls you a wingman on global television, the die is very much cast. Just own the fact that BOT hasn’t really been free to race.

    1. These pops at Mercedes are quite ridiculous. Just look at VER since Danny Ric left Red Bull, every teammate has had to bow to him. Ferrari have never had any qualms about team orders.
      Merc have been the most obliging team management at the front of the field but they would be fools to not maximise any advantage to gain in a competition for WDC. The only other example worth noting was McLaren who stuck with the freedom to race in 2007 for Lewis and Fernando and consequently gave Kimi the championship.
      They may not be definitive in acknowledging team orders but that is a lot to do with showing respect to the driver who has to give way.

      1. Those teammates very seldom/never stood on pole or showed greater speed. Both situations bottas has to endure again and again.

        1. Sergio, this Horner. Please tow Max 6 times.


          1. You missed bottas towing Lewis every run.
            It was Lewis who was unable to follow the faster bottas. Bit embarrassed by it…

  9. Lets see Mercedes squirm out of this one.

    I hope radio reception is poor and Hamilton needs to attempt an overtake on the track. Better yet, Bottas wins, gets kicked from the team for not following orders and we get Russel in for next race.

  10. I think Valtteri will comply, he is happy now, out of the Mercedes Golden Cage (for him). He is just waiting for this season to finish. His life will start again next season.

  11. Luckily, Bottas is already ‘calibrated’ (broken in), so that should be no problem.

    1. That is true

    2. Calibrated, like a tool.
      Not even treating him like a human being anymore, but a mechanical tool.

  12. It’s only about 3 points though. Ham will be on pole for Sunday no matter what

  13. Valteri, it’s James… Valteri… hello?

  14. There is no difficulty in this whatsoever. Bottas will start the GP last, and he is not in the WDC battle. So neither his starting position for the GP matters, nor do the points in the WDC, whether that’s 3, 2 or 1.

    If Mercedes has the opportunity to let Hamilton take 3 points, they 100% have to take it – especially with Norris with a good chance of snatching P3 from Verstappen.

  15. Not giving this call would make absolutely no sense. Especially since Valtteri will get a penalty for the Grand Prix anyway. Vallteri takes the honour, Lewis gets the points. No big deal.

  16. Good title for an article. Should rather be: Mercedes’ champagne problems have them braced. Happy we at least had a decent first half of the season before FIA decided to favour Mercedes once again.

  17. RB fans when Mercedes make a strategic fans – tears everywhere.

    RB fans when “Sergio, this is Horner – please tow max 6 times” – it’s different.

    Me – the hypocrisy is hilarious.

    1. *strategic call

    2. I think a lot of fans are still bitter that Hamilton got away with cheating Verstappen out of at least 2nd place in Silverstone, knowing the FIA would never punish him appropriately.

      1. Hardly cheating and he got a penalty. Move on, it’s boring now.

        1. If punting out your rival isn’t cheating I don’t know what is? Unless you think your hero suddenly has the wheel to wheel skills of Mazepin.

          Unfortunately for Hamilton fans, the fans of other drivers don’t have the memory of a goldfish. Making a move that resulted in a 32 point swing is something fans don’t move on from especially if it plays a role in the championship.

      2. Yes, he was widely loved and respected before Silverstone. Never a bad word for him on here.

        1. Oh no, not criticism. If you want to go somewhere where your hero never gets criticised than don’t go on racing forums. Listen to Crofty or 5live coverage where King Lewis is the greatest of all.

    3. And again. You totally missed bottas tried to tow Lewis every run.
      Lewis was unable to follow.. Embarrassing

  18. All depends on the start. Can Max jump Lewis? Will Lewis try and take him out again and if so will the FIA punish Hamilton with an appropriate penalty or hand him the win a la Silverstone?

    1. You guys are really short on content, huh?

  19. Bottas should find a way to cooperate with Verstappen. He needs a car between himself and Lewis, so if there’s a chance, he should strategize in that way.

    1. But Botas as we have seen he is not that good at defending unless the pace is more than max( if max is able to be second after the first corner) he might be easily overtaken that’s why I think toto will try as soon as possible to interchange the drivers so Lewis will be leading.

  20. i think its going to be a Mercedes one and two even during the race and being a MAX die hard fan its hard but I have to admit here in Monza getting a podium will be so lucky .the machines Mercedes and McLaren are really flying in Monza and our max hasn’t got that pace and given that overtaking here is easy indeed Red bull we will struggle. Anyway I hope for the best F1 is hard to predict sometimes.

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