Toto Wolff was happy to give credit to Valtteri Bottas despite another underwhelming performance from the Portuguese Grand Prix pole-sitter.
Bottas had suffered a poor start to the 2021 season, finishing a distant third in Bahrain – where he criticised the “defensive” strategy Mercedes had applied to him – before crashing out at Imola in an incident with George Russell, who had been trying to overtake the Finn.
But the 31-year-old had a golden chance to turn things around at Portimao as he grabbed pole position and led the race in the early stages – only to surrender to both his team-mate, race winner Sir Lewis Hamilton, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Although not helped by a sensor issue that caused him to briefly lose power on lap 55 of 66, Bottas was left clutching to the straw of setting the fastest lap that earned him an extra World Championship point along with the 15 he collected for finishing third.
Nevertheless, Mercedes F1 co-owner and team principal Wolff sympathised with Bottas, having been quoted after Imola as saying his driver had been “making steps backwards” – raising questions about whether he will be kept on by the team for another year in 2022.
“I think at the beginning Valtteri was pushing so hard and with the DRS effect here, the passing of Lewis, that’s OK,” Wolff told Sky F1.
“I think these three have been in a class of their own today and Valtteri probably would have had a shot at Max at the end if we hadn’t let him down on the power unit.
“So I think we need to give him credit – it was a good recovery if you consider where he was a week ago.”
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Wolff explained what had happened with the sensor problem.
“It was unfortunate because he really caught up well to Max and then it kind of stabilised at 1.5/1.6 seconds,” added the Austrian.
“But he had more to come at the end of the race and we made a driver switch change in order to basically override a sensor that was saying we were running too hot on exhaust temperatures. We couldn’t override it, so the engine went into protection mode and that cost him five seconds.”
Bottas himself had no answers as to why he had been unable to hold off Hamilton, being passed for the lead on lap 20.
Asked about his lack of pace, he said: “I have no idea. With the mediums it was a struggle, with the hard tyres overall it was okay. At some point I was catching Max but had an issue with a sensor and lost some power and that was it.
“The beginning was good, I had no issues, everything was feeling okay.
“But after a few laps I felt and I saw that I didn’t have enough pace and that’s ultimately why Lewis got me, it was a matter of time. In that corner with DRS he was approaching with 20/30kph more, so there’s nothing to do, that’s how it goes.
“Then I struggled with the warm-up on the hard tyres and couldn’t keep Max behind.
“But it was a lot of points more than two weeks ago.”