Toto Wolff believes the form of Valtteri Bottas at the start of the season forced Lewis Hamilton to raise his game in order to win the drivers’ world championship.
Bottas crashed in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix but enjoyed a strong run of form after that, and was just five points behind Hamilton in the standings after an unfortunately timed Safety Car cost him a big chance of victory in the Chinese GP. At the following race in Baku, Bottas was again set to win when a puncture took him out of the race with three laps remaining, and Wolff, Mercedes’ executive director, says that form was a wake-up call to Hamilton.
“It played a big role, because when there are two drivers that are very close together with each other in the competitive sense, they keep pushing each other,” Wolff said. “We saw it was a positive side between Nico (Rosberg) and Lewis, that it was a constant push. Obviously they fell out. But with Valtteri it never came to the moment of falling out and Valtteri would’ve taken the lead of the championship in Baku or around the lead if that win hadn’t been taken away from him.
“He kept his strength through these difficult days and he’s going through the pain that is one day going to make him happy, for sure.”
Later in the season, Bottas handed over what would have been his first victory of the year to Hamilton in Russia in order to help his teammate’s title chances. With Mercedes securing a fifth straight constructors’ title in Brazil, Wolff says the Finn’s contribution to both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships should not be downplayed.
“Valtteri is a great team player. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to hear that. But as a matter of fact, he has the speed, and he was drafted late into Mercedes with the best driver as his teammate. He had a very strong start of the season, he was unfortunate in Baku losing a win which could’ve still kept him in the championship.
“From then on it kind of went away for him. And he took it with dignity and kept working hard for the team. The relationship between the drivers is really a strength of this team and he contributed massively in the two championships.”