Toto Wolff has revealed his gee-up call to Valtteri Bottas in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying had been requested by the driver himself.
As he was about to start his final flying lap at Yas Marina in the pole position shootout, Bottas was heard being told “all you have, Valtteri” over the radio by Mercedes team principal Wolff.
The message worked inasmuch as Bottas then snatched provisional pole from team-mate Lewis Hamilton – but only so far, because then along came Max Verstappen in the Red Bull to pip the Finn by just 0.025sec. Hamilton was only 0.086sec off pole position in third.
“I don’t know how much distance there was between first and third, maybe two metres. Awesome,” was Wolff’s response when interviewed on Sky F1.
But the Austrian also said he had made a rare appearance on the airwaves at a critical juncture as a result of a conversation with Bottas, who had urged greater communication as he tries to turn around his flagging recent fortunes.
“It’s always tricky when you talk to the driver before qualifying or the race, but it’s something we discussed and he said ‘a little feedback from you is always good’,” explained Wolff.
“It’s difficult because I’ve never talked to the drivers because I felt that from my experience, it’s a bit distracting. But with him, we had a good talk and when a Championship is lost it’s always difficult to cope with that. That’s why he said ‘let’s talk a little bit more’.”
That was a close one! The boys will start the #AbuDhabiGP in P2 and P3.
We can’t wait for the race tomorrow 🦈 pic.twitter.com/tF6jTfmb1N
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 12, 2020
After Verstappen had snatched pole, Wolff was spotted bowing his head in disappointment in the Mercedes garage as the World Champions, who are usually so dominant in Abu Dhabi, were denied pole position there for the first time in the turbo-hybrid era.
It was also the first pole position this season for a car not powered by a Mercedes engine as Hamilton had claimed P1 10 times, Bottas five and Lance Stroll once in the Racing Point.
But Wolff thinks his team are still in a strong situation for the race, saying: “It’s good that we have two and he [Verstappen] is one, but then you don’t know where Alex [Albon] is going to come out after the first lap.
“So we have two to play, P2, P3, which means we have a bit of a strategic advantage and let’s see how it pans out.”