Valtteri Bottas thinks Mercedes have gone “a little bit backwards” from the first race of the Austrian double-header after a disappointing qualifying display.
The World Champions’ two cars qualified fourth and fifth for the Austrian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton just ahead of Bottas, after Lando Norris and Sergio Perez got in between them and pole-sitter Max Verstappen.
Last weekend, in the Styrian GP at the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton and Bottas finished second and third respectively having had no answer to Verstappen’s race pace.
Now they face an even harder task with a McLaren and the second Red Bull, driven by Perez, to negotiate before they can get a crack at the man who leads the Drivers’ World Championship by 18 points.
“It seems like we went a little bit backwards from last weekend, or others came more than us,” Bottas told Sky F1 after qualifying.
“I would say maybe a tenth or two we are missing, [compared to] where we should have been. I don’t know whether it’s because of the different tyre compounds this week with the C5 or McLaren have found something, [but] that’s where the pace of the car was today.
“We really couldn’t find more straight-line speed, it’s the same as last week. We tried to optimise the package again and I don’t think we found enough from last weekend.
“Also, the set-up was different – I don’t think my set-up was fully optimised for this compound.”
💬 “We need to learn from today and then I’m sure we can get a good result for the team tomorrow. I’m still expecting a big fight with Red Bull in the race.” – @ValtteriBottas #AustrianGP pic.twitter.com/tqDWUX5DNA
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) July 3, 2021
One source of optimism for the Finn was that at least Mercedes’ race pace had looked more encouraging during the simulations in FP2.
“I think race pace-wise we should be in better shape,” added Bottas. “I think everything we’ve done with the car set-up is aiming more towards the race pace, so for sure we need to learn from today, and tomorrow I’m sure we can get a good result for the team.”
The one-step softer tyre compounds suggest a two-stop race strategy is more likely, but Bottas is waiting to see what happens on a race day likely to be less sunny and cooler.
“Last weekend, one stop was not easy, so for sure that will be even more difficult,” said the 31-year-old. “But you never know.
“I think it will depend on temperature. If it’s cooler, like it was on Friday, it could be one [stop], it could be two – we’ll see.”
Bottas, along with Carlos Sainz, was called before the stewards for allegedly driving “unnecessarily slowly” at the entry to turns nine and 10 in Q2, to preserve his tyres for a flying lap, but took no further action as they decided “too many drivers contributed to the situation and therefore the driver concerned is not fully to blame”.
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