Toto Wolff describes the puncture that cost Valtteri Bottas victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as “brutal” after the Finn retired three laps from the end of the race.
Bottas was running third behind Lewis Hamilton and race leader Sebastian Vettel but limited his pace to extend the life of his supersoft tires, inheriting the lead after the two cars ahead of him pitted for softs earlier in the race. With Bottas set to switch to ultrasofts he was already in the frame for victory before a Safety Car period ensured he could pit and retain the lead. But then a puncture on the run to Turn 1 forced him out of the race.
“It’s just brutal,” Wolff said. “I guess … that’s how motor racing should be. But being in [the garage], and going through the rollercoaster of emotions of a solid result, but not a win. Then Lewis’ race was damaged, virtually damaged, by the flat spot.
“Then Valtteri kept going faster, and faster, and faster. To the point that, even with no Safety Car, we thought that there was a chance. Because he could leave on the ultrasoft and would’ve been able to try to hunt Sebastian down but obviously it all [went wrong].”
Reflecting on the performance shown by Bottas, Wolff admits it wasn’t immediately clear that the Finn would be able to deliver the pace required to challenge Vettel.
“You can see that all around, the most complicated is the tire warm-up. Because the Ferraris were in the window immediately. Sebastian was, on the first lap, two seconds faster than everyone else and then we were fine, with the tires coming in. But the Red Bulls struggled a lot.
“Then once it stabilized the pace was OK but I actually think that Sebastian managed the front. In those early stages he was the fastest car on track. But that changed, because Valtteri’s race then came towards him and then obviously we knew that staying out would give opportunity with Safety Car, that’s what we did.
“Then it just went up in flames to lose an easy win with three laps to go with some piece of debris on the track.”
And Wolff believes Bottas shouldn’t have been able to pick up a puncture with the debris still sitting on the circuit after a Safety Car period late in the race.
“The Safety Car has influenced all race results, but I guess that’s good news for the show. Isn’t that what the Americans call it? You have to send Mr. Debris out. That neutralizes the pack and this is what caused a great spectacle with perhaps some of the results we didn’t expect.
“But maybe one word on the debris, these things shouldn’t be on track. We had six laps behind the Safety Car, there shouldn’t be a piece of debris the size of a fist.”