Valtteri Bottas hasn’t yet been told he’ll need to play a supporting role to his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton’s title campaign – but the moment when he will be might be close.
Hamilton currently leads the drivers championship by 17 points from Sebastian Vettel with eight races remaining. However the team was rocked by the Ferrari’s performance advantage at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend and is braced to take a further hit at the next race in Monza.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits that the outcome of next weekend’s race might force him to issue team orders instructing Bottas to focus on helping Hamilton’s title bid rather than on the Finn’s own quest for race wins.
“I hate to do that,” Wolff said when asked about the prospect. “It’s completely against my racing instinct. We try to be very neutral to both drivers.
“We haven’t done it. We haven’t done it yet. We haven’t discussed it,” he added.
“Let’s see how Monza pans out and how it goes. Then we will address the question as to whether we need to put all force behind one driver.
“But at the moment, we owe it to the two men and to Formula 1 to not interfere in the race.”
In fact Mercedes has already ‘interfered’ in at least one race in 2018. They ordered Bottas to hold station behind Hamilton in the closing laps of the German Grand Prix.
However that was seen as a one-off deal to protect the team’s position in treacherous track conditions.
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The Finn himself has consistently dismissed suggestions that he’s the ‘number two driver’ at Brackley, and bristled when Wolff dubbed him a ‘sensational wingman’ after he helped to protect Hamilton’s lead in Hungary.
But with both titles now too close to call and the season winding up to a nail-biting climax, it’s likely only a matter of time before Bottas is forced to accept the secondary role.
Bottas is currently 87 points back from Hamilton on the drivers championship, albeit close to overhauling Kimi Raikkonen for third place in the drivers championship.
His recovery to fourth place from the back of the grid at Spa helped Mercedes extend its advantage in the constructors championship after Raikkonen was forced to retire.
Vettel and Hamilton both have five victories so far this season, with none for their respective team mates so far.
Last year in his first season with Mercedes Bottas was able to notch up three wins from pole position at Russia, Austria and Abu Dhabi.
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