An interesting, if not tense, dynamic is bubbling away at Mercedes, as Valtteri Bottas increasingly becomes the team’s sacrificial pawn in this year’s title battles.
After swearing allegiance to the cause of winning Mercedes their eighth Formula 1 World title in as many years, as well as aiding his teammate Lewis Hamilton’s quest for an eighth too, matters took an interesting turn during a dramatic Russian Grand Prix weekend.
It has been well noted that during the race when racing for position with Max Verstappen, Bottas all but stepped aside to allow the Red Bull driver the kind of passage the best of willing drivers will offer a teammate, let alone a title rival.
A fact noted by 1996 F1 World Champion, turned Sky F1, pundit Damon Hill, who said of Bottas on Sunday: “You can’t get away from the fact that the guy who came second started the race behind him and his teammate won.
“In the race, we were expecting Valtteri to put up a little bit of a defence to fight the Mercedes corner against the Red Bull team and Max Verstappen, but he seemed to just wave him through. Maybe he just didn’t want any trouble. It doesn’t look like he is racing. It was almost like a gift to Max.”
So much so that Red Bull cheekily fired off on Twitter: “Valtteri, it’s Max”
Bottas capitulating so easily to Verstappen reminded Gerhard Berger of the mind games played by Ayrton Senna in his heyday: “With all his determination and concentration, Max seems completely confident in his mind. He knows exactly what to do.
“An example: Before the race, Verstappen had a chat on the grid to Hamilton’s teammate Bottas, who also had to start from near backed. I will guess he told him should stay out of the title fight.
“Champions do that too. Before every race, Senna would go to the drivers on the grid and tell them his plans. That always worked,” recalled the Austrian.
For the race in Russia, Bottas took a fifth Mercedes PU at Sochi after having one changed at Monza two weeks earlier suggesting he has become the engine test pilot for Hamilton’s title bid.
He saw the funny side of yet another PU change, for the Sochi race, posting an image himself on Instagram with a pile of old engines in the background.
Whatever the case, Bottas will be the sacrificial pawn should the need arise, perhaps more so now in his final eight races with Mercedes, and how willing he will be, as the title battle heats up, is the big question with big ramifications either way.