Valtteri Bottas was left “confused” about why his strong Friday practice pace had disappeared overnight at the Qatar Grand Prix.
The Finn had three tenths and four tenths of a second respectively in hand of his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in FP1 and FP2, but the pendulum swung back towards the seven-time World Champion on Saturday.
Admitting he had to “push a lot” to just edge out Hamilton for top spot in FP3, Bottas then fell away in qualifying as he finished 0.651sec adrift.
Initially, that had appeared to ensure he will line up third at the Losail International Circuit behind his colleague and the other title contender, Max Verstappen.
But later came news that Bottas, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz may all be facing a grid penalty as they have been summoned to see the stewards pre-race on Sunday regarding alleged breaches of yellow flag rules.
Bottas had been planning for a start on the clean side of the track and for a slipstream from the leading duo on the long run to Turn 1 that may enable him to challenge the Red Bull.
VB in P3 💙👊 Perfect spot to pounce into Turn 1! 😈 pic.twitter.com/6bHT5RP5oV
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) November 20, 2021
Also in the 32-year-old’s thoughts was finding out what had happened to that Friday pace.
“It had been a good weekend so far until qualifying for me,” said Bottas in his parc ferme interview.
“I felt really comfortable and strong in the car but I don’t know really what happened overnight.
“I could feel in FP3, for sure the wind was different to yesterday and I was still fastest, but I really had to push a lot and I knew I couldn’t find much more.
“In qualy I struggled quite a bit, especially in Turn 1 – struggled to get the tyres ready unlike yesterday evening.
“We need to have a look. I tried my best, but a little bit confused what happened with the car overnight.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, speaking before news of the alleged rule breaches had been announced, said he believes “the first 500 metres” of the race will be hugely important in terms of getting ahead due to the difficulty of following cars.
As he is not a title challenger, Bottas knows he is under much less pressure than Hamilton and Verstappen – although he still has an important role to play in the Constructors’ Championship battle.
“I don’t really have personally much to lose and I hope the grip will be good on the clean side for me and Lewis and go from there,” said Bottas, who is into his final three races with Mercedes before joining Alfa Romeo for next year.
“Obviously we’ve got two cars against Max and I’m sure we can do something.”