With Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton stretching ahead in the lead of the championship, the role their team mates may play in deciding which of them comes out on top is becoming ever more critical.Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas are still capable of winning the championship, both have already been called upon to wave their team mates past while running different strategies. But one of them was noticeably quicker to comply than the other, with potentially race-deciding consequences.
In Spain Hamilton took an extra pit stop, passed his team mate and then closed on Verstappen to claim victory. In France last week Verstappen won by using the same tactics against Hamilton: He converted to a two-stop strategy and overhauled the other Red Bull before hunting down Hamilton.
In Spain it was noticeable that Bottas didn’t exactly make life easy for Hamilton when he was told not to hold his team mate up. Hamilton had to pull off-line and dive down the inside of his team mate at turn 10 to get by, losing over 1.3 seconds.
The delay didn’t matter in the end: Hamilton arrived on Verstappen’s tail and passed him with six laps to go. However at the time Mercedes had cause to fear the time lost could have prevented Hamilton catching Verstappen to pass him before the end of the race. They had told their driver they wouldn’t catch the Red Bull until the final laps.
At Paul Ricard last week Perez moved aside for Verstappen much more readily. The times sheets show Verstappen was not delayed at all getting past, as Perez acknowledged on Friday.
“In the end I ended up losing about a second and a half in that lap,” he said. “Max didn’t lose anything, which was good. At the end a second or two can make a huge difference for the team.”
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He’s not wrong: Verstappen only caught Hamilton on the penultimate lap. Had Verstappen lost as much time behind his team mate as his title rival did in Spain, he might not have caught the Hamilton in time to pass.
The most striking difference was not found on the times sheets, but in the eagerness with which Perez complied. His exclamation “let’s get them” on his radio after Verstappen passed him contrasted sharply with the palpable reluctance of Bottas in Spain, who acknowledged he could have let Hamilton by sooner but didn’t want to compromise his own race.
If Perez or Bottas fall out of championship contention, then they can expect to be called on to regularly perform as ‘number two’ to their team mates. Until then, the relationships between the team mates need careful handling.
Verstappen can have no complaints over the readiness with which Perez moved aside in France. Equally, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made it clear after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that Perez would have been allowed to fight for the win had he jumped past Verstappen into the lead when he pitted, which was a possibility at one stage.
As for Bottas, he is satisfied that Mercedes haven’t already relegated him to a ‘number two’ role, despite arriving in Austria fifth in the championship with less than half of his team mate’s points tally. “We haven’t had any discussion about that,” he said on Thursday. “I think it’s too early.”
Hamilton remembers all too well the fraught relationship he had with Bottas’ predecessor Nico Rosberg and is careful not to rock the boat. While conceding Mercedes could do better, he avoided any criticism of Bottas when asked by RaceFans whether Red Bull had handled the situation better in France than Mercedes did in Spain.
“I think we can always make improvements, for sure,” he said. “If you look at the Red Bull, I saw the video of Sergio and Max. A few seconds later and it would have been mid-corner, maybe Max would have lost more time. It was just a perfect time that he happened to to to meet him on-track. I guess, it was potentially a little bit different when we were in Barcelona.
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“But we will continue to work as a team. I think we’ve worked well as a team for many years. As I’ve always said, I think Valtteri has been the best team mate overall. And and when I say team mate, it’s not just about driver performance, it’s about team morale, it’s about how you work in the team environment. We’ll continue to improve on our communication and hopefully do better moving forwards.”
There is a further dimension to the delicate situation at Mercedes: The ongoing doubt over Bottas’ future at the team. If Bottas discovers he won’t be staying next year and is therefore seeking a new employer, he’s going to be even less willing to potentially compromise his own performance by immediately scampering out of Hamilton’s way.
Today the championship leaders share the front row of the grid and their team mates line up behind them. Whether they end up playing a role in the outcome of the coming race depends on any number of factors.
But the fact we’ve seen it happen twice in the last four races suggests there’s more of this to come. How eager the championship contenders’ team mates are to help them could therefore shape the destiny of this year’s championship.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
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9 comments on “The potentially crucial differences in how Bottas and Perez help their team mates”
Fer no.65 (@fer-no65)
27th June 2021, 8:53
The problem with Bottas is that deeply in his heart he thinks he can compete with those two, so he’s eager to do it every time he has the chance. But he can’t. When things aren’t 100% at Mercedes, he’s no where near the other two. And when things are 100% at Mercedes, Lewis usually beat him anyway. He’s basically chasing the rainbow every weekend, and that translates into mistakes, anger on the radio, sudden lack of pace…
When he joined the team he played a much better number 2 role. But then he convinced himself that he’d try and beat one of the all time greats and it’s been downhill since then. This past 12 months have been very unconsistent.
27th June 2021, 9:20
I don’t disagree but I would like to see if he’d have more of a spring in his step if he finished on the podium in Monaco and Baku.
27th June 2021, 11:10
That is very to the point. “Chasing the rainbow” is exactly what Bottas is doing, and it costs him both energy and cool-headedness. If he had settled into a supporting role instead, he might still be a good asset to Mercedes.
27th June 2021, 9:43
I believe that if Bottas is to be eased out of the contract (or he himself starts to believe he is going to) it will be during the season & Mercedes will take Russel mid-season with sole purpose – help Lewis this year to title & next year it is “all equal between you”.
All that could trigger that would be another “Spain situation” between the two. Mercedes seems under pressure & seems to realise they might not outpace Red Bull in the rest of the season & they might need every single bit to claim at least one title.
Even if Bottas suddenly found some outstanding pace, kept it for the rest of season & outscore Lewis, he is certainly not going to erase that massive gap to Verstappen.
27th June 2021, 9:47
I wasn’t expecting analysis about Bottas being unsatisfactory in his number two role. Especially based on one overtake ignoring everything else that has happened during the last five years.
I see Bottas as a great number two – close to Hamilton (behind but not by much) and willing to support his team mate when needed. The majority view seems indeed to be that he is still in Mercedes because of just that, because of being ideal in a supporting role – not because of being the fastest alternative. Questioning his usefulness based on one overtake seems quite far-fetched.
27th June 2021, 11:41
I think the difference is that Perez obviously knew what his role was in that race and that he was contributing towards Red Bull picking up a win. It’s the same today where he’s happy to start on the softs to help the team and Verstappen.
Bottas seems to believe the Mercedes line that their drivers are equal when they clearly aren’t. It’s worked previously because he’s slower than Hamilton but the car was so quick it meant he naturally finished 2nd but that doesn’t work this year. I think the lie had gone on for too long now to say “ok Valteri – you are actually a support driver and need to start helping Lewis.”
Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
27th June 2021, 13:19
bottas is possibly doing what he wants if he knows it is his last season as he won’t be at risk of losing his seat any more if he does this. Where as he will have been last year. I don’t think he doesn’t realise that hamilton is better. Every other season, Bottas has been incredibly willing to follow team orders. In fact a lot more so than Perez in the past. Going back and judging a fair number of years, Bottas has been a better team player than most drivers. This all seems to be based on one or two occations that are the first time Bottas has ever been a little difficult in this aspect.
28th June 2021, 0:11
Hamilton should focus more on racing, as opposed to American politics.
29th June 2021, 5:56
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