Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted the decision to take victory away from Valtteri Bottas at the Russian Grand Prix was deflating for his team, but also necessary for Lewis Hamilton’s championship fight.
Mercedes ordered Bottas to move over and give the lead of the race to teammate Hamilton on lap 25, which the four-time world champion then converted into a victory and a 50-point lead in the championship over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Bottas, who is out of championship contention, asked if the positions would be swapped back before the chequered flag but was told the swap would be explained to him after the race.
“It’s deflating for a driver and deflating for a team,” Wolff said. “But there is a harsh reality also that on a day you can extend a lead by ten points more for a championship that has been very tough and very difficult at times, and here you have to take it, and this is what we did today.”
Prior to the swap, Hamilton had Vettel close behind him and blisters emerging on his tyres, which head of strategy James Vowles explained to Bottas over team radio after he moved aside.
Wolff added that team orders had been discussed prior to the race, with Bottas due to start ahead of Hamilton the grid.
“We are all racers at heart, and what we want to see is out and out racing and may the quickest man win,” Wolff said. “And then we are a bunch of rational guys, and we discuss things in the morning and then everything is different in the race. This is what happened today.
“We should be over the moon with a one-two, and fundamentally we are, but we also feel it went against Valtteri. It would have been a race win for him, and we changed it.
“Valtteri is such a tremendous team player. Lewis was far back, and we told him to switch positions in Turn 13 and he did it immediately. This is what in the team you want to have, you want to rely on those guys in the same way they have to rely on us. This is what makes it feel even worse, but a win is a win, one and two, a 50-point advantage, so that feels good.”
Asked if Bottas would be given a win back later in the season if the opportunity arose, Wolff added: “You know this is what I said before, you want to control everything. There a million scenarios we discussed this morning, but we had a different one in the race. I think we have to make a step back after Sochi, fly back home, analyse and say what can we learn from a day like today.”