Berger suspects Verstappen got inside Bottas’ head

Date published: September 29 2021 - Jon Wilde

Max Verstappen talks to Valtteri Bottas at the Italian GP. Monza September 2021.

Gerhard Berger thinks Max Verstappen got into Valtteri Bottas’ head before the Russian Grand Prix – to ease his passage through the field.

Verstappen started plum last at Sochi after taking an engine penalty, in addition to a three-place grid drop for his collision with Lewis Hamilton at the previous race.

The Red Bull driver made good progress up the order and when a downpour in the closing stages shuffled the pack with pit stops for intermediate tyres required, Verstappen benefited from stopping at the right time to end up an excellent second to Hamilton.

However, besides the strategy, Berger believes another important factor surfaced pre-race – in the form of a conversation between the Dutchman and Bottas, who was also among five drivers to take parts-related penalties.

Speaking to F1-Insider, the Austrian made reference to the chat that had been witnessed and likened it to a tactic that was deployed by his McLaren team-mate of 1990-92, Ayrton Senna.

The idea, according to Berger, was to encourage Bottas to play fair – even though there were suspicions that Mercedes had given the Finn a fifth new engine of the season, and a second in as many races, to incur a penalty that would essentially enable him to hold up Verstappen.

In the end, that did not happen as Verstappen swept past Bottas – who was criticised immediately after the race by Damon Hill for the ease with which he had allowed it to happen.

Berger said: “For all his determination and concentration, Max seems completely tidy in the head. He knows exactly what to do.”

Regarding the “brainwashing”, he added: “Champions do that too. Senna went to the drivers on the grid before every race and told them his plans. It always worked.”

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The result in Russia was, of course, what even Hamilton described as “mega damage limitation” on Verstappen’s part as he emerged only two points adrift in the Drivers’ standings – and with the Briton fully expected to take an engine penalty of his own during the remaining seven races.

Berger thinks the momentum remains with the Red Bull driver, who has led the Championship for most of the campaign but been hit by some costly retirements.

 

“I think Max will do it,” said Berger. “He’s finally got a car on a par [with Mercedes], he’s doing a fantastic job.

“His second place at Sochi was more than damage limitation, considering he had to start from the very back. You could say Mercedes had a penalty kick but Max saved it.”

 

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