Valtteri Bottas admits he was under pressure after a “nightmare” first lap in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix and was glad to recover to third place to help Mercedes’ constructors’ championship hopes.
The Finn was on pole position after winning the Sprint but lost out to Max Verstappen at Turn 1 and then Sergio Perez at Turn 4, slipping to third behind the Red Bull pair on the opening lap. He soon yielded to his fast-rising Lewis Hamilton but was able to fight back to finish third, with Hamilton winning to give Mercedes an 11-point lead in the standings.
“Max made a great start but mine was also pretty average,” Bottas said. “I was hoping that would be enough to maintain the lead, but he was ahead of me going into Turn 1. My issue was there was too much clutch slip, so I lost a bit of grip and didn’t drive off as good as it should. Then in Turn 1 I tried to brake as late as I could but Max fought hard and I was off track at some point. But, like I said, he was already ahead so there wasn’t much to do…
“Then, getting out of shape in Turn 3 cost me on the run down to Turn 4, ran a bit wide there, defending, so, for me, lap one was a bit of nightmare because this morning one person after another kept telling me what to do in the first lap and how important it was for me to stay ahead…“Obviously, I didn’t give up — I kept pushing and I have to say it was so good to see Lewis win this race from where he started. He was in his own league today, on this weekend and did a better job. I didn’t give up, kept pushing and still managed to get to the podium and that’s good — it means that we got more points than Red Bull and that’s something.”
Bottas’ hopes were boosted by a fortunately timed Virtual Safety Car that allowed him to make his first pit stop and jump ahead of Perez once again, but he feels Mercedes could have let him go to the end on just one stop to try and beat Verstappen.
“For once, yes, that was good. But I have to say I was really surprised with how good the pace was with the hards, towards the end of the stints, so I had a feeling that, because my first stop was so late, it should have been one stop. I’m still thinking it could have been one stop — I could have possibly been second with just one stop.”