Valtteri Bottas says that very fine margins are separating him from Lewis Hamilton at this early stage of the season after finishing second to his teammate in the Chinese Grand Prix.
After starting from pole position, Bottas dropped behind Hamilton on the run to Turn 1 and blamed his poor getaway on the painted start/finish line just ahead of his grid slot. With Mercedes having secured three one-two finishes this season and Bottas winning the opener in Australia, the Finn says such fine margins are decisive in a close battle between the two teammates.
“Lewis had a better start and for me, the problem was already on the formation lap start,” Bottas said. “There was a thick white line just in front of my grid box, when you’re still accelerating, and when I went over the white line I got some wheelspin on the formation lap start.
“For the race start, I thought maybe it’s going to be better with warmer tires, but it wasn’t. So once I hit the white line, got the wheelspin, took too long to recover it, lost a few meters of distance, so Lewis got me. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Bottas kept Hamilton honest in the early stages and was often close after pit stops, but said that he and Hamilton were so closely matched that whoever led into Turn 1 was likely to take victory.
“I think for the first stint, Lewis had a pretty strong stint,” he said. “I was initially close by, but obviously when you are behind, you are sliding a bit more, overheating the tires a bit more. I think after the first stint, the second and third stint were very similar. Just about how much you were managing or pushing. So, I think race start was the key – but Lewis did a good job on that. So, that’s how it goes.”
Bottas made a significant gain in the first round of pit stops by stopping one lap before Hamilton in order to cover off Sebastian Vettel, and team principal Toto Wolff says a fear that the Finn would jump his teammate led to a double stop later in the race.
“It was an interesting situation because it was clear that Valtteri in that situation was under pressure from Sebastian,” Wolff said. “So if Sebastian would have stopped, he would have undercut Valtteri. So the logical choice is to stop Valtteri first. But if we would have stopped Valtteri, he would have undercut Lewis.
“So we didn’t want to interfere with the order, so that’s why we decided to stack. We knew that we were just about to have the gap to stack them properly. We gave the commitment to Valtteri that we wouldn’t lose any time, and it was really impressive how the guys did it.
“It was the choreography for everybody who understands Formula 1 was really impressive.”