Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says using team orders was “the harsh reality” for Valtteri Bottas in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix after he was told to give up a position to teammate Lewis Hamilton on-track, denying the Finn a race win.
Pole-sitter Bottas was instructed to let drivers’ championship leader Hamilton past at mid-distance in Russia, as Mercedes feared Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – Hamilton’s chief title rival – would be able to get past due to a blister on the Briton’s left-rear tyre.
The move was crucial in allowing Hamilton to win the race ahead of Bottas, who finished second, but was told in the closing stages the team would not be swapping the positions back.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the race in Russia, team boss Wolff admitted he felt uneasy about making the call, but felt it was necessary.
“We are all racers at heart, and what we want to see is out and out racing and may the quickest man win – and then we are a bunch of rational guys, and we discuss things in the morning and then everything is different in the race. This is what happened today,” Wolff said.
“We should be over the moon with a one-two, and fundamentally we are, but we also feel it went against Valtteri. It would have been a race win for him, and we changed it.
“It’s deflating for a driver and deflating for a team. But there is a harsh reality also that on a day you can extend a lead by seven points more for a championship that has been very tough and very difficult at times.
“Here you have to take it, and this is what we did today.”
Wolff explained how the “mess” was caused by Mercedes’ decision not to pit Hamilton straight after Bottas earlier in the race, which had caused him to lose a position to Vettel on-track.
“We discussed who to pit first, and then we did it with Valtteri because that would protect his win. And then it was one lap too late with Lewis, and he lost the position to Sebastian,” Wolff said.
“All of this triggered, let’s call it, the mess. Because we came out behind Sebastian, Lewis needed to attack, not happy about that. There was a blister and that blister was what we needed to protect when Sebastian was all over him.”