Sebastian Vettel says Mercedes’ decision to swap Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton for the lead of the Russian Grand Prix was a “no brainer”.
After starting from pole position, Bottas was on target to win the race when Mercedes told him to let his teammate past on lap 25. The swap happened just as Vettel was starting to put pressure on Hamilton and ensured the Mercedes driver extended his championship lead over Vettel by another 10 points to 50 with five races remaining.
But Vettel believes Mercedes acted logically given the situation in the championship and the race, and called on journalists to stop questioning his rivals on the fairness of the team’s decision.
“Well done to both of them, they played very well together as a team,” he said. “In their defence from all the questions… obviously I know that you guys [the media] love controversy and therefore ask some naughty questions to them as individuals, but I think in the position they were in it was a no-brainer what they did today. So maybe not all the questions are justified.”
The race may have panned out differently had Vettel been able to keep Hamilton behind him after the first round of pit stops. Vettel emerged from the tyre changes in second place, ahead of Hamilton and behind Bottas, but was unable to stop his title rival completing an overtake a lap later despite an aggressive block into Turn 2.
“I think it was clear that Valtteri was dropping back to make life difficult [after the pit stop], so I guess they played well together as a team,” Vettel said. “Then I had a bit of a wobble into Turn 13, locked up and Lewis was quite close so he got DRS down the straight. I saw him coming, it was very difficult to see with the mirrors but I thought I moved before the braking, so I wanted to make sure I covered the inside. I didn’t mean to be – how do you say? – an irritation at any point.
“Then, obviously I had a compromised run out of the second corner, defending my position. Then it was very difficult to see where he was. I couldn’t see him for a very, very long time and then just saw his tyres and I knew that he was then somewhere there and I didn’t want to be a complete arse by pushing him into the dirt and potentially into the wall.
“I wasn’t quite sure where he was and then at some point I had to give in. I thought I could maybe get it back out of turn four but I had to give him the entrance otherwise, you know, at some stage it just becomes silly.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy when I lost the position but I think we did what we could today. We tried to push very hard, obviously and made the undercut but unfortunately lost the position. After that it was very, very difficult. I thought I was a bit faster than Valtteri at certain stages in the race but not enough to get close.”