F1 turmoil for Mercedes amid shambolic ending

1 month ago 11

Lewis Hamilton's late race defence against Max Verstappen at the French Grand Prix has been labelled "soft" by his former teammate Nico Rosberg, who also described Valtteri Bottas' efforts as "rubbish".

Verstappen won the race by passing Hamilton with just a lap and a half to go, after Red Bull made what proved to be a race-winning decision to make a second pitstop for tyres.

It meant Verstappen gave up the race lead when he made the extra stop, but the fresh rubber allowed him to catch and pass both Hamilton and Bottas late in the race.

But Rosberg, who beat Hamilton to the 2016 world title when they were Mercedes teammates, couldn't believe the reigning champion didn't put up more of a fight against Verstappen.

"(It was) unusual from Lewis, I mean, close the damn door. No?" he said on Sky Sports.

"Usually Lewis is the best one-to-one racer, I'm surprised he didn't try. I mean, at least try.

"Brake late and try and keep him on the outside.

"A bit soft from Lewis there, somehow."

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on the podium at the French Grand Prix, along with Verstappen's race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

Hamilton, who now trails Verstappen by 12 points in the title fight, said any such defence would have been futile as he had no grip left.

"He had the DRS open, if he didn't pass me there then he would have passed me on the other straight afterwards," he said.

"So, it made zero difference. I just had no front end so he would have got me either way. So, it was pointless to defend any harder."

There was discontent on Bottas' side of the garage as well, after the Finn was kept out on a one-stop strategy, when he felt stopping twice would have been better.

Valtteri Bottas finished fourth at the French Grand Prix.

Bottas, who eventually finished fourth after also being passed by Sergio Perez, made his dissatisfaction clear in a radio message to the team late in the race.

"Why the f--- did no-one listen to me when I said it was going to be a two-stopper?" he asked.

"F---ing hell."

Further complicating the dynamics of the Mercedes-Bottas relationship is the expectation that Mercedes will announce George Russell as one of its drivers for 2022, perhaps as soon as next month.

An all-British team of Hamilton-Russell could be announced at the British Grand Prix on July 18, leaving Bottas with few, if any, options for a competitive drive next season.

Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton at the French Grand Prix.

Speaking after the race, Bottas said the team wasn't flexible enough to switch from the one-stop strategy that they'd originally planned.

"The winning strategy today was two stops. Easy to say afterwards, but that's how it is," he said.

"I think as a team we were too focused on just completing the one stop, thinking it's the best, but it wasn't.

"I had no front tyres left for the last 10-15 laps, so I was just really, try and get the car home.

"It was not fun today."

George Russell

As Verstappen caught the two Mercedes cars in the closing stages, many expected Bottas to hold the Dutch driver up for at least a couple of laps, giving Hamilton some much needed breathing space at the front.

At the time Hamilton was about four seconds ahead of Bottas, who was powerless to prevent the Red Bull passing him with nine laps remaining.

"You feel like a sitting duck. I tried everything I could to try and finish on the podium, but the tyres were completely gone, so no chance," he explained.

"Our predictions in terms of tyre life didn't quite match the reality.

"If I did a two stop, for sure I would have been on the podium and fighting for the win of the race."

Rosberg, whose retirement in 2016 opened the door for Bottas to join Mercedes, noted that not only was the one-stop strategy the right one, but the Finn's performance wasn't up to scratch.

"It was the right decision (to only stop once), they had to keep him out there to protect the win, just that Valtteri did a rubbish job in defending," Rosberg said.

"He blocked completely unnecessarily, he braked way too late, went straight on, so Max had such an easy time getting past.

"Maybe he would have got past anyway, but at least cost him a bit more lap time."

When it was suggested that Bottas was struggling on worn tyres, Rosberg still couldn't find a positive.

"I know. Still, it was not a very good way of defending. It could have been done in a much more smart way," he said.

"You can definitely see that the pressure is there on Mercedes. I've not seen them make so many mistakes in a long time."

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