Valtteri Bottas Says Mercedes ‘Will Stick Together’ in Face of Red Bull F1 Assault

For the first time since the German Grand Prix in 2018—11 races into the 21-race 2018 campaign—Mercedes enters a Formula 1 weekend looking up at someone else in the standings.

Then, it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. This time, it’s Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

Valtteri Bottas hasn’t helped the Mercedes current cause with two DNFs in the last four races. The first DNF came thanks to a crash with the Williams car of George Russell at Imola. The most recent miscue, and more frustrating early exit, came two weeks ago in the Monaco Grand Prix when a jammed wheel nut resulted in a DNF after just 29 laps of the 78-lap race.

“A really difficult day for the team and lots of areas that we need to look at but we’ll come away from here and analyse everything objectively,” said Mercedes’ trackside engineering director after Monaco. “Retiring a car with an issue at a pit stop is clearly not good enough, the nut was damaged to the point where it was never going to come off so we had no option but to park the car.”

Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff said that nut issue was just the latest domino to drop in a dismal day at the office.

“We had a pretty terrible race day on Sunday, we had a lot of degradation with Valtteri, while still being in the hunt for the podium,” Wolff said. “Then we machined a wheel nut at the stop, which has never happened to that extent before, and he was forced to retire.”

Early Mercedes reports suggested that Bottas overshot his pit in Monaco, which led to the tire man working the nut at an improper angle.

Bottas said on Thursday in a media video conference ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku that the team’s debrief painted a slightly different picture of Mercedes’ latest misfire.

“We always analyze everything really openly, not blaming any people, just analyzing things honestly, admitting weaknesses, (one of) which was the pit stops,” Bottas said. “As a matter of fact, it was one of my concerns already a few weeks ago. It didn’t come from like somewhere out of the blue. We know that we’re not perfect in pit stops as we’ve seen, and also other areas like tire warm-up in qualifying.

“We analyzed everything in detail and we know that we could have done a better job as a team and with the pit stop of course. It was a very honest, normal debrief from my side. Of course, I wanted to see all the reports where I stopped (on the pit stop). I think I was like 2 or 3 centimeters off the center line, and if you get that accuracy normally, it’s pretty good. You can easily swing by 10 or 15 centimeters, so I thought it was pretty spot on.”

Bottas enters this week’s race in Baku in fourth place in the F1 Drivers’ Standings with 47 points. He trails Verstappen (105 points), Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton (101) and McLaren’s Lando Norris (56). Red Bull leads the F1 Constructors’ Championship by just one point.

“We will stick together, there’s no doubt,” said Bottas. “We have great team spirit and we know how much it matters to stick together as a team. We have a big fight on our hands, for sure, in Red Bull, and on some tracks with Ferrari, as well. It’s going to motivate us even more. I can see everyone is super motivated this year with the competition, so there’s no doubt about that. We have good spirit and we’re keen to get the result we’re chasing for, especially myself. I can tell you that.”

Bottas has reason to be concerned beyond the current standings. His contract is up at season’s end with Mercedes, and it’s not crazy to imagine that Mercedes might be looking for a fall guy or two should the team’s streak of seven consecutive F1 Constructors’ Championships comes to an end. And then there’s Williams driver Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, who is waiting in the wings for an opening with the big team.

“First of all, we haven’t yet spoken anything because it’s a pretty demanding championship, and we know how much it matters to focus on the main thing, and that’s performance,” Bottas said. “That time will come for sure. It’s been not yet, but obviously time flies, especially when soon we’re going to tripleheaders (with races over three consecutive race weekends). I would imagine naturally in the next month or so we will start to speak.

“I know from previous experience that the sooner you can sort out things it’s better fore everyone. It will come soon, but not yet.”

Bottas hopes those talks will lead him right back to the Mercedes camp in 2022.

“My future? What are my thoughts? I’m quite open minded, like in life in general,” Bottas said. “You need to always take opportunities, and you never know what is around the corner. Having clear goals, what you’re pushing for, has taken me this far, and I always follow my heart and follow my passion.

“I am still enjoying, of course, Formula 1, very much and racing at the front, and I really love it. I still enjoy it, as much for example as I did my first year with Mercedes, no doubt.”

Bottas, 31, has been with Mercedes since 2017. The former Williams driver replaced retiring Nico Rosberg after Rosberg’s surprise retirement following his F1 championship.

“If I look at the big picture, for sure I still have a few years in me,” Bottas said. “I feel like year by year I keep improving in certain areas and keep getting better. I’m quite far from the the oldest drivers on the grid, so in theory I still have time. I just don’t know what the future holds. I really try and take it weekend by weekend and see what comes.”

“Definitely my mental strength has been tested.”

So far, what has come in 2021 has been difficult for Bottas and Mercedes to take.

“Definitely my mental strength has been tested,” he said. “It’s not been the easiest ride to start with. In the last few races, having two DNFs. It’s all about how you bounce back from those and how you move forward.

“The loser gives up, and it’s not something that I’m going to do. I’m still keeping very strong mentally and knowing that there’s a long, long season ahead. For sure many battles to come, and hopefully many wins. I fully believe in myself and for us as a team that we still have time to good things.”

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