Valtteri Bottas admits he was worried Lewis Hamilton’s strategy was going to cost him victory in the Japanese Grand Prix after surrendering the lead to his teammate.
Hamilton was running third on the road in the opening stint as Bottas led Sebastian Vettel, with Vettel then pitting first and staying on soft tires to guarantee he would make two stops. Bottas instead switched to medium tires while Hamilton did the same four laps later, and after stopping for a second time Bottas was behind his teammate and told not to push because Hamilton would definitely stop again — something that did happen but he admitted he was unsure of for a number of laps.
“Everything was going pretty smooth,” Bottas said. “Just the second stint was full of traffic, so I was overtaking backmarkers all the time, so I couldn’t really have good rhythm and very good pace in that stint.
“When Lewis didn’t stop for his second stop I was slightly concerned that maybe his tires would last to the end and he could actually make it, because he had a decent gap to me. But obviously he was on the medium and I think that tires would have struggled massively at the end.
“For sure I was wanting to make sure what’s the race situation and what’s going to happen. At that point actually I had some margin to save the engine a little bit for the future races. So that’s why I was asking if I really needed to go full gas, or if there’s a bit of margin for safety. I think the timing for the good lap times, I was getting through some backmarkers then getting into the rhythm again, getting into good lap times. All my stints, they were not massively long so I could really push hard when I wanted.”
Bottas took the lead from third on the grid as he passed Vettel before Turn 1, and says that it was a crucial moment given Ferrari’s straight line speed advantage.
“I did have a very, very good start. But for sure it looks better if there are cars around that don’t have a good start and it was very much needed, because we knew we had a good race car here with a good pace but if you are behind other cars you can’t really use it that much.
“I was very happy to get to the lead and obviously it’s quite different being in the lead and being able to control and on this track [being] in the free air makes a difference, so I really enjoyed it.”