Mercedes may order Valtteri Bottas to make way for Lewis Hamilton in sprint race
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted he could order Valtteri Bottas out of Lewis Hamilton’s way in Saturday’s sprint race ahead of the Italian Grand Prix.
Bottas, this week dropped by the Silver Arrows in favour of George Russell for 2022, edged out Hamilton by just 0.096 seconds in Monza to take pole position. Hamilton’s championship rival Max Verstappen starts third for Red Bull.
Formula One will stage its second sprint event on Saturday. Three points will be awarded to the winner of the 18-lap dash around the so-called Temple of Speed, with the runner-up taking two points, and a single point for third. The result will also determine the grid for Sunday’s grand prix – the 14th round of a scheduled 22.
With Bottas set to start Sunday’s main event from last – penalised for taking on his fourth engine of the season, one more than is permitted – and Hamilton three points adrift of Verstappen in his quest for a record-breaking eighth title, Wolff reluctantly conceded that he might have to tell Bottas to move aside for his superstar driver.
“You have to do this because it has been so tight,” said Wolff.
“Nobody wants to use team orders because we are all racers and it is ugly, especially if someone puts in a lap like Valtteri did today, completely on merit.
We need to see how the race pans out, and if the positions stay like they are, then we will have to make that call.
“We need to see how the race pans out, and if the positions stay like they are, then we will have to make that call.
“But maybe tomorrow it is more acceptable to do it than other times because there is a point or two at stake, and Valtteri goes all the way back to the grid on Sunday with the engine penalty.”
After topping practice, Q1, Q2, and posting the fastest time in the first action of Q3, Hamilton looked on course for pole.
But powered by a new engine, Bottas, who will be replaced by George Russell at the grid’s all-conquering team in 2022, stole the limelight in the closing moments.
However, Hamilton will still be confident of leaving Monza with a full quota of points, with the power-hungry 3.6-mile venue suiting his Mercedes machinery. Verstappen was four tenths slower than Bottas in qualifying.
“Championships have been lost by one point,” said Hamilton. “And there have been a lot of points lost on both sides this season, so these sprint races will help. We need to capitalise on that.
“It was not the best of qualifying for me. Practice was really good, but I just struggled in this session.
“However, it is great to have a front-row lockout, and particularly with the news last week, it was great to see Valtteri driving so well. We have got to get off a good start tomorrow and maximise both days.”
Lando Norris finished fourth for McLaren ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, with the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, last year’s surprise winner, sixth.
Russell, who will partner Hamilton next year in a mouth-watering all-British line-up, retained his perfect qualifying record against his Williams team-mates.
The Englishman, 23, was temporarily knocked out of Q1 only to be given a late reprieve when Yuki Tsunoda’s lap was deleted for exceeding track limits at the Parabolica.
Tsunoda was demoted to 17th, with Russell taking advantage to progress to Q2. He qualified 15th, one place ahead of Nicholas Latifi in the other Williams.