Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas says he felt ‘really good’ after claiming victory in a hard-fought Baku race, fending off the advances of his teammate.
Bottas claimed victory on Sunday after starting from pole position, the fifth win of his career and the second of this season. A slightly better start for Hamilton meant that the two Mercedes drivers scrapped hard down the opening straights on Lap 1 before Bottas forced his teammate to acquiesce. Once clear, Bottas scampered ahead to open a few seconds advantage.
As the race unfolded and the two Mercedes drivers were passed by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc through an alternate tyre strategy, the gap between Bottas and Hamilton shrunk to the point that, entering the closing stages, Hamilton was within DRS range of his teammate. Looking set for a final lap challenge, Hamilton made a slight error at the final corner that gave Bottas some breathing room. Added to that, Bottas was himself within DRS range of the lapped Williams of George Russell, meaning that he would have had some defence had Hamilton had a pop.
“This victory feels really good.” beamed Bottas, who now leads the Driver’s Championship by a solitary point over Hamilton.
“When you’re starting from pole, you hope for a straightforward race – the less drama, the better it is. I didn’t have the greatest start; after the wheelspin in China I was maybe just a little too cautious.
“Honestly I could have done a better job at the start today. I think I was a little bit on the cautious side. I didn’t want to get the wheel spin started, so I was rather smooth on getting on power, not to kind of mess it up. But Lewis had a good start, so that’s why he was on the inside and we were pretty much side by side actually through Turn 1, so I was just carrying the speed on the outside, and same thing in Turn 2, leaving enough space. It was nice and fair and I was obviously pleased to keep the first place.”
Hamilton, asked about the initial battle he had with Bottas, hinted that he took it easier than he would have had there been another car in his way: “Ultimately you always have to remember when you’re in a team as big as this that you are only one, and there are so many people that depend on us, so selfishly I could have for sure pushed a lot harder and Valtteri would have lost position, maybe I would have gained position, most likely he would have got overtaken by a Ferrari or something like that, so we have to work together. So whilst I wanted to overtake him, I had to be cautious at the same time, to give him space so that we would block the front row and stay there. Ultimately I lost out in that, but that’s a sacrifice you have to sometimes make in order for the team to win. I think if it was a Ferrari there it would have been a lot different. And that will be how it continues for the rest of the year — I think Valtteri and I have always had a lot of respect for each other, and we continue to do so. I think you can see that. That’s how we deal with it — we discuss it before the race, we agree as gentlemen, and we stick to it.”
Bottas went on to explain that he felt he was able to monitor Hamilton’s pace and respond to it throughout the race: “Lewis was very quick today and was able to put on some pressure at the end of the race, so I had to make sure to not make any mistakes. At times I could really notice Lewis trying really hard to catch me and he was really close at times, like in the end. So I had to really respond and push as well. The main thing for I was focusing on was just purely my own driving, not falling for the silly mistakes. I managed to keep it together, so for this I’m really happy.”