Austrian Grand Prix – Race winner Valtteri Bottas said he had the pace to control the race and ‘would have slept’ without Safety Car interventions.
The Finn won the first round of the World Championship at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Having claimed pole position by just 0.012 seconds on Saturday, Bottas nailed his start to pull away quite quickly at the front of the field as Max Verstappen squabbled with Lando Norris.
With teammate Lewis Hamilton climbing back up to P2 from his P5 grid slot, Bottas enjoyed a 7.5 second lead by the time the Mercs were in a 1-2 position. From there, Hamilton eased the gap down to around 3 seconds approaching the pitstops. However, the Safety Car intervention on Lap 26 meant the two cars had to stack their pitstops and prevented any possible strategic fight.
Hamilton stayed close to Bottas throughout the second half of the race, but never really managed a proper attack on his teammate as Mercedes calmed their driver’s pace due to fears over a gearbox sensor issue. Both cars were in danger of failure, with both drivers constantly reminded to stay off the kerbs. Further Safety Car interventions resulted in Hamilton getting caught up with Alex Albon, who pitted for fresh Softs, and a resulting time penalty put him down into P4.
With Bottas sailing home at the front, the Finn said his plan had been to increase his pace again approaching the original pitstop window and this would have likely dropped Hamilton again: “We were not that far from stopping, I think, less than ten laps from the planned stop lap so just about to try and lift the pace. Obviously with the big gap I had at the beginning I could really manage the first stint and make sure that… but from my point of view, the best thing to do for me to win the race was to go as long as possible, so I tried to manage quite a lot in the beginning and middle of the stint and towards the end I would have slept!”
Having reigned in his pace due to the gearbox concern, Bottas said he had plenty in reserve to increase his speed if needed: “I would have had a bit more margin to raise the pace so everything was pretty much under control, like I felt really towards the end of the race but just every single safety car there’s always a risk. You only need one lock-up or a poor restart and you can lose everything.”
Asked whether the gearbox messages were an order to stop racing with Hamilton and to hold station, Bottas said: “At any point, there was no call from the team that we would stop racing each other but I got the message that Lewis also has to avoid the kerbs, so in that sense we were in the same boat. For me, the whole race was… I could really control and make sure we get safely to the end with a good amount of tyres left and so on. There was no massive trouble at any point.”
With Hamilton picking up a late five second time penalty, Mercedes could have tried orchestrating a swap to allow Hamilton a buffer to try claiming a team 1-2 but Bottas said this was never talked about over the radio: “I got the message that he’s got a five second penalty but there was a double yellow, so obviously you have to slow down quite a bit so then I feel like some drivers maybe slow down a bit less so they could catch-up. At the same time, we were still not using the kerbs. So, I tried to compromise making sure I really get to the flag and win the race, not risk too much, but also I tried to go as fast as I could within those limits. It’s not really my fault that he got the five seconds penalty. “
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