Valtteri Bottas takes Russian Grand Prix grid penalty as Mercedes make strategic move

George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes

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Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas will start towards the back of the grid ahead of the Russian Grand Prix after the team have opted to take the ‘tactical move’ and changing his power unit ahead of the race in Sochi. It’s the second PU change for the Finn who endured a grid drop at the Italian Grand Prix, finishing third on the podium.

The move comes as team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s main title rival Max Verstappen starts from the back of the grid after completely changing engine components earlier in the weekend.

In a bid to hold off the championship leader, Bottas will now start the race from P17 instead of P7, just ahead of Verstappen who starts in P20 on Sunday, just behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who also picked up engine penalties.

After a mixed up qualifying session in which Hamilton crashed into the pit wall, the Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had indicated the team were assessing their options ahead of the race with the seven-time world champion starting fourth on the grid.

“We are still thinking about possible strategic decisions to be taken in the next hour or so on what the best and quickest race strategy could be for him,” Wolff said on Saturday.

Now the team have opted to use Bottas as a defence to slow down any come back from Verstappen, who currently leads the way by five points heading into Sunday’s race.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff contradicts Lewis Hamilton claim

It’ll be an extra blow to Bottas, who took his last win for Mercedes at the Russian circuit in 2020, but speaking on Thursday he reiterated that despite his departure next season, he would still play the team game.

When asked however if he would move aside for Hamilton to get a points advantage, Bottas added: “At this situation, yes, I would do it.

“We are here as a team and we need to make sure we win both the titles. Not only the constructors’ but the drivers’.

“At the moment, Lewis has the greater chance for that so that is the situation.”

In an error-strewn qualifying session, Hamilton was left “incredibly disappointed” in himself after hitting into the pit wall in the final moments of qualifying on Saturday.

The crash lost Mercedes precious track time on the slick tyres, with Hamilton complaining he was unable to get any heat into the tyres in the short time remaining.

When asked by Craig Slater from Sky Sports F1 if it was cold tyres, Hamilton replied: “No, just a mistake for myself, ultimately. 

Lewis Hamilton slams into pit wall and breaks front wing in qualifying
Toto Wolff highlights Lewis Hamilton’s change of approach with Max Ve

Incredibly disappointed in myself,” added Hamilton. “Up until then, I was in the groove I was really in a zone. And I’m really sorry for all the team that are here and back to the factory because obviously, that’s not what you expect from a champion, but it is what it is, and I will do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it.”

Wolff however said the team made no mistake, adding that they were never going to get two laps in at the end of the session.

As conditions changed in Sochi throughout the qualifying session, teams made the gamble to switch their intermediate tyres for slicks in the dying moments, with Williams’ George Russell the first to dive into the pits.

Plenty followed suit, including Mercedes who double stacked Hamilton and Bottas, with the hope of a quick switch from intermediates to slicks.

But after the crash, Mercedes were left scrambling to move Hamilton aside to fix his front wing and allow Bottas back out on track.

However Wolff placed no blame on the team or any driver, stating: ”There are situations which are really unfortunate,” began Wolff, speaking to Sky Sports F1. “It’s not that we made a mistake or the drivers contributed to it.

“We were the first cars out in the session, that’s why were we in a sequence that we would’ve aborted the last two runs on the intermediates to get two soft runs in.

“Or we played it safe and finish the lap which we did. Even without Lewis’ kiss on the wall, we wouldn’t have done two laps.”

”Today was no mistake. If you let me turn back what we would change, maybe not go out first on the track.

“Knowing that this would’ve happened, is crystal ball reading. At the end of the day, it was unlucky. it cost us P1 and P2 and we need to turn it around tomorrow.

“These things sometimes go against you. We would have been fast enough for front-row but you have no chance to heat it up.”

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