Toto Wolff concedes Mercedes’ use of team orders in Russia led to a “mental setback” for Valtteri Bottas, who never once looked able to challenge Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka.
Mercedes controversially used team orders at the Russian Grand Prix, instructing Bottas to move over for Hamilton.
That effectively handed the Brit the race win while Bottas, visibly upset, had to settle for second.
One week later and there was a notable turnaround in form at Mercedes as Hamilton came to the fore at Suzuka, P1 in every session, while Bottas never once looked able to challenge his team-mate.
Wolff concedes the Russian team orders may have played a part in that.
“We have to remind ourselves that for a race driver who is channelling all his efforts into winning races and the championship,” the Mercedes motorsport boss told Autosport.
“If you take that ability away from him, it will automatically cause a little bit of a mental setback.
“He says he hasn’t got that. but I believe that will play a little part of it.
“He’s a tremendous team player and we cannot re-emphasise that enough.
“To give you an example, after Sochi in the evening we had a discussion, he said, ‘I completely understand why you did it and where the team’s coming from. If I were in your shoes, I would do exactly the same’.
“‘I need to outperform Lewis in the beginning of the season, and score more victories, and put myself in a position to fight for the championship. So, don’t worry about me’.
“And today [Sunday at Suzuka] he struggled in traffic, many drivers referred to being in traffic as difficult and he was certainly one that suffered from that a bit.”
Wolff, though, firmly believes that Bottas will bounce back and even take a race win before this season is over.
“I think Valtteri will get one victory [this year], and don’t you worry, I think Valtteri will get many more victories in his life,” he added.
“He will go into his third season with Mercedes next year, and will make another step.
“He will have learned and improved and see himself as a strong challenger for the championship and it’s exactly what we want. So that will come.”