Seven-times Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton defended under-fire Valtteri Bottas as an “amazing teammate” after the Finn faced questions about his future at Mercedes and the possibility of being replaced mid-season.
Ahead of round four, this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, Bottas is already 37 points behind championship leader Hamilton after three races, and fourth overall in the drivers’ standings.
British media calls to have George Russell in the World Champion team are gathering steam, with the Daily Mail this week quoting an anonymous Mercedes engineer claiming there was “some unrest” at the factory and suggested Bottas could be replaced by the Mercedes-backed Williams driver.
Other tabloids also picked up on the story and are starting to have a field day at the expense of Bottas.
Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, when asked about the possibility of a change of teammate, Hamilton told reporters: “To be really honest I’ve not given it a lot of thought, but from what I’ve experienced with the relationship with Valtteri, he’s been an amazing teammate.
“I feel like we have the best line-up currently, in terms of the equilibrium that’s within our team. At some stage, it’s going to change, I’m not going to be here forever, Valtteri won’t be here forever but right now I think he’s delivered time and time again over the years and he continues to.
“Valtteri qualified on pole last race. It’s only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and just let him focus on doing what he’s doing.”
Bottas had earlier given short shrift to the speculation, with an additional dig at rivals Red Bull who have switched drivers repeatedly, “I know that I’m not going to be replaced in the middle of the season.”
“As a team, we don’t do that. I have a contract for this year and I think there’s only one team that does that kind of thing in F1 and we’re not that. So no pressure from my side and I know how things are. There’s always bullshit around, that’s part of the sport.”
Asked whether he expected to be at Mercedes next year, Bottas replied: “I don’t know. It’s early days. I haven’t thought about it really. At the moment I don’t care. I’m just focusing on this year.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recognised after last weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix that a sensor failure had hampered Bottas in the battle for second place in that race.
The Finn had bounced back to take pole after crashing out of the preceding Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola following a collision with Russell, who had been trying to overtake for ninth place.
“We let him down with the engine that went into a safety mode,” said Wolff in Portugal.
“Like many times it could have worked for Valtteri and we were pushing hard and continue to support him and see what he is capable of doing in Barcelona.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)