Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Losail International Circuit, 2021

Car damage prevents Mercedes using Bottas to deny Verstappen bonus point

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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Mercedes retired Valtteri Bottas from the Qatar Grand Prix due to the extent of damage his car suffered after he picked up a puncture.

Bottas’ front-left tyre failed on lap 33 of Sunday’s race. The puncture occured at the beginning of the lap, forcing him to cover over five kilometres on three wheels, his car dragging along the floor. That caused considerable damage to the W12.

After his tyres were replaced Bottas continued for 15 laps before retiring from 12th place.

“There was no downforce any more and we retired it,” team principal Toto Wolff explained. “The car was running hot, the car was damaged and wasn’t fast enough anymore, so we decided to preserve the power unit.”

Although Bottas looked unlikely to reach the top 10, he could theoretically have aided the team by fitting fresh tyres at the end of the race in a bid to set the fastest lap. While finishing outside the top 10 would have denied him the bonus point, it also would have prevented Max Verstappen from claiming it.

However his lap times before retiring were almost three seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s. As Verstappen was able to lap 1.8 seconds quicker than Hamilton after he fitted fresh rubber, the damage to Bottas’ car was clearly too great for him to beat the Red Bull driver to the fastest lap.

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“We couldn’t really see that we were going to get into the points with him,” Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin explained. “There was quite a lot of aero damage.

“We were starting to get another vibration on that set of tyres, whether it was that or not we’ll need to let Pirelli have a look at them. But ultimately, we decided that scoring anything was becoming such a long shot that it just made sense to bring the car back in.”

It was an unfortunate end to a weekend which had started “brilliantly” for Bottas, said Shovlin.

“On Friday he had an absolutely faultless day, he was extremely quick, single lap and long run. He did some great work on the set-up, got the car in a good place, and that was the direction that ultimately Lewis moved in.

“But then from Saturday onwards, for Valtteri, it all just seemed to become a bit more difficult. In qualifying, probably our biggest issue was just getting the car in clear air. We had a really unfortunate session where whenever we left, people were out in front of us, he couldn’t get the temperature in the tyres.

“Then in the race, the start was difficult for him. It was a tricky opening few corners. He recovered brilliantly from that and we thought we were still going to pull out a really good team result from the race today and the puncture took it all away.”

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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...
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23 comments on “Car damage prevents Mercedes using Bottas to deny Verstappen bonus point”

  1. “Then in the race, the start was difficult for him. It was a tricky opening few corners. He recovered brilliantly from that and we thought we were still going to pull out a really good team result from the race today and the puncture took it all away.”

    Sounds like the summary of 75% of Bottas’ races this season.

    1. Well it was a bit better than most in that the ‘he recovered brilliantly from that’ bit is what usually has been missing, though the bad luck after certainly did feature plenty this year for Bottas @kichi-leung

    2. He recovered brilliantly? Bottas only started overtaking people when the soft tires started going off. Until then he was just sitting in 11th with people again wondering why he wasn’t able to move forward, while Max had closed on Hamilton and was in a position to challenge for the win. Bottas is a fine qualifier but his race craft is sorely lacking.

  2. Did Mercedes too focused on Hamilton until forgotten to pit Bottas? 33 laps on Medium tires probably is asking too much. I did expecting him to come in around lap 27-30.

    1. Ah yes. They forgot about Valtteri. ‘What was that? A second driver you say? Hmm, somewhere in the deepest darkest recesses of my mind I seem to recall a blond haired man called Burt or something – what about him?’ They’re fighting for the WCC as hard as the WDC and wanted Valtteti to one stop his way to a podium. Leaving him out longer in clear air to have fresher tyres to fight at the end was the best plan to achieve this before Pirelli’s tyres said bye bye.

  3. I thought Bottas’ driving on his way back to the pits with the puncture left a lot to be desired. He didn’t really seem to be keeping off the racing line, in particular lurching across the track when Perez was trying to get past him. Could have caused a nasty accident.

    In general I think race control needs to be stricter on drivers attempting to recover damaged cars, as there have been a few near misses in the past. This was by no means the worst example but another reminder that it can be potentially dangerous.

    1. @red-andy

      I don’t think his driving was great, but yellow flags were out, so drivers like Perez should have been prepared for anything. Funnily enough, they say no overtaking, but in this scenario is was obviously different. But trying to get past a damaged car during yellow flags is also heavily up to the driver that has more control over their car. Alonso backed off more with bottas than Perez did.

      I don’t see why Bottas should have had to stay off the “racing line” when drivers on this sector shouldn’t have been “racing” If anybody hits a damaged ca with a puncture during a yellow flag, with a clear warning that this was the case, I would honestly say it was more the responsibility of them than the driver with the damaged car.

      All this said, I do think they should drive a bit slower when they have damage or a puncture

      1. There was also a brilliant rooster tail of sparks to alert you to the presence if a stricken car ahead lol. Hard to miss.

  4. I really hope that the championship doesn’t come down to teams playing games with the gimmick point in the last laps of the the last race. Would be worse if we also see Alpha Tauri or maybe one of the Mercedes backed teams getting involved.

    Although then again maybe that sort of scenario would be the best thing to happen as it would really highlight just how silly the gimmick bonus points are. Bad enough we also have additional points for those short Saturday gimmick races now which will also play a role in the championship outcome sadly.

    So sad that the SPORT is becoming so infested with these sorts of artificial gimmick bonus points which are clouding the world championships.

    1. @roger-ayles I think Verstappen taking fastest lap in Qatar went a significant way towards preventing fastest lap from deciding the championship, as long as they keep fighting each other for wins. With an 8-point lead, even if the two were to DNF in Jeddah (or Jeddah is cancelled), Verstappen can finish 2nd in Abu Dhabi and still win on countback even if Hamilton wins and takes FLAP. And even if Hamilton closes in within a couple of points in Jeddah, with the points system the way it is, the potential 2-point swing of FLAP wouldn’t come into play in Abu Dhabi if they finish 1–2.

      But you’re right, it could have been very different. If Verstappen hadn’t taken that fastest lap in Qatar — or if Bottas had been around to nick it — and Jeddah were cancelled or they both DNF there, then fastest lap would have been guaranteed to be decisive in Abu Dhabi if Hamilton led Verstappen home. And if Jeddah finishes the same way Qatar did (Hamilton P1, Verstappen P2 + FLAP) and Verstappen takes a 2-point lead into the finale, fastest lap could still be decisive — if Hamilton finishes one place ahead of Verstappen in P2–P8.

      As for whether it’s good or not for the sport, I’m torn. It adds a layer of complexity, but part of me enjoys these permutations. The “worst” case scenario would be watching Bottas or Perez duel it out for fastest lap on behalf of their teammates — but F1 is a team sport, and in a way, that’s more sporting than watching a number 2 driver give way to their championship-contending teammate.

  5. In qualifying, probably our biggest issue was just getting the car in clear air. We had a really unfortunate session where whenever we left, people were out in front of us, he couldn’t get the temperature in the tyres.

    In both Q3 runs, Hamilton went out first. Clean air. It’s something he’s done, even in mega-tow Baku, and made it work for pole.

  6. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    22nd November 2021, 15:28

    It was baffling to see him left out for so long on Mediums which had also done quali. 25 points for victory means Mercedes should have targeted P4-P5 with Bottas which would have left them with a decent lead of 15 points in the constructors. Lets be honest…once he bottled the start, there was no way he would have scythed through the pack.

    1. Up until the surprise tyre failure I had thought it was a very good strategy as he was going to come back out either in front or right behind Perez.

    2. @asleepatthewheel

      There was no way he would have got through the pack after he bottled the start? I can’t deny he bottled the start, but…. he was in the podium places when he had the puncture. And did 5 overtakes on track and 3 by strategy effectively. As When Perez had pitted, he was 20 seconds ahead and maintained that gap. so if say Bottas had pitted just a bit earlier, 3rd looked very realistic.

  7. That extra point will be irrelevant anyway. Without drama on track i don’t see Max and Lewis finish lower than third in the upcoming 2 races.

    1. Correction: it could play a role in the constructors championships of course

  8. There are reports (at least on the Finnish media) that Bottas said in some post-race interviews that his car is not the same as Hamilton’s. “Small things that are different, but I can’t go into details” to paraphrase his statement. This might have also played a role if the race for the fastest lap had been on in the end.

    1. They have different steering wheels for one. That is down to driver preference.
      They have different pedal positions and seats.
      77 should cause more drag than 44, becasue 4 is all poiny and a nice tail to smooth out the drag, while 77 like a parachute in the face of the wind

    2. I bet there has always been and there will be games behind the scenes that only a few people will know. We can only guess what are those games behind that Mercedes curtain.

      1. Yeah there are always games behind the scenes but look at the lap times all through their time together in the team and it is difficult to say they didn’t have identical machinery.
        Let us now assume the team now has only a single specification of a critical front wing or end plate, definitely it now has to go to the driver in contention for the championship.
        I did notice at one time that they both used different wind deflectors one prefered the jagged variety the other wanted the smoother one.

    3. Clearly Bottas is on his way out and his car is decent enough for him to finish in decent points to secure WCC. They are clearly not giving him anything new that’s under development and could be used 2022 and beyond. He’s unable to capitalize on the current car and Mercedes makes (silly/risky) strategic errors. That’s difficult to overcome.

  9. Mercedes clearly dropped the ball on Bottas. They could have pitted him after he had done half the laps with medium tires. At that point, he would have had 8-10 laps newer tires than Perez and could have caught him. That still would have left him with a 1-2 finish. Mercedes chose to keep going with medium tires 6 laps beyond the half way mark — it’s not clear why they did that.

  10. Bottas….Will always be remembered as princes her slave. It’s sad. Always abused by Mercedes. Never treated fairly and doesn’t had the same support. I hope Russel will fight for his own succes in that snakepit Mercedes.

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