Valtteri Bottas said he was only a lap or two away from a pit-stop that could have brought him a Qatar Grand Prix podium rather than retirement.
The Finn’s third-last race day for Mercedes started badly and did not improve, for it began with an appointment in front of the stewards and a consequent three-place grid penalty due to being found guilty of ignoring yellow flags in qualifying.
Lining up sixth on the grid, Bottas lost places off the line and dropped out of the top 10, but he was fighting back up the order and scenting a podium via a one-stop strategy when he sustained a front-left puncture on lap 33 of 57.
It looked as though the 32-year-old may end up stuck in the gravel at one point as he careered off track, but he made it back to the pits and also had his front wing changed.
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However, by then all hope of a top-three finish had gone and 15 laps later Bottas was called in by the team to retire the car, saying afterwards: “I think it was too damaged – just wanted not to break it even more.”
As Fernando Alonso made a one-stop strategy work to finish third behind Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, Bottas felt he could have done the same had he just been able to reach the point earmarked for a sole tyre change.
“We knew we were pushing it to the limit,” Bottas told reporters afterwards.
“But all of a sudden I had the puncture without any vibration before, without any loss of grip, so it was quite strange.
“We felt comfortable – at least for me everything was feeling normal and that was the best opportunity for us to get to the podium. I think if we had stopped one or two laps later I would now be on the podium, so it’s just unlucky I guess. Not the first time, to be honest.”
Bottas also explained why he had made a bad start on a day when, with Verstappen and Sergio Perez finishing second and fourth, Mercedes had their lead in the Constructors’ Championship cut to five points by Red Bull.
“I think one issue was getting temperature into the medium tyres on the formation lap and then being on the dirty side (of the grid),” said Bottas.
“I just had really low grip on the first lap, including the start itself, just wheel-spinning, so it was pretty tricky. The first few corners was pretty much like on ice.
“Apart from the poor first lap with poor grip it was going okay. It’s always tricky when there’s a bit of a DRS train. That was the issue, but when things started to spread a bit more I could start to make progress and actually the pace was pretty good and I could go pretty long in the first stint.”