“I definitely surprised myself,” said Valtteri Bottas after his pole position for the race in Mexico. Red Bull was actually a big favorite for the first places at the high altitude of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, but the result was a front row of Mercedes with Bottas in first place.
“That was a great lap,” says Bottas, “one of my best!” He had a lead of 0.145 seconds over his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, taking his second pole position in just three races after Istanbul. It seems as if Bottas is much more relaxed after his permanent move to Alfa Romeo.
Only a punitive transfer could stop him in the end. In three of the four previous races he had to be moved backwards after an engine change, he won the other race in Istanbul with ease – and now he’s back on pole.
“It was unbelievable in Turkey – and so is today,” said Mercedes Motorsport Director Toto Wolff happily for his protégé. What particularly pleases him is the performance and the self-confidence that the Finn shows: “It would be nice if you could hear him talking in the garage. Totally relaxed,” said the Austrian.
Bottas rejects changes
Because Mercedes had changed something in the set-up of team-mate Hamilton several times during qualifying and also wanted to convince Bottas of the changes. “He just said: No, we’ll stick to my line,” said Wolff. And it paid off: “Then it pops out like that,” he praises. “He’s really detached and it’s great to see this performance.”
Bottas himself said he was a bit surprised by the performance of the Mercedes. He had already felt good in the morning’s practice, but the pace in the car was missing. “But the higher temperatures in the afternoon suited us,” he says. “I think we have optimized the set-up.”
“Getting a clean lap and getting the tires into the optimal temperature window was extremely important,” he adds, emphasizing: “The balance was the best I’ve had all weekend.” So why change something on the car?
Bottas’ first lap in Q3 was enough for pole time, but on the second attempt he couldn’t get close to his lap again. “The rear tires overheated a little more, so I lost some traction in the last sector,” he explains. “I tried to take some time on the first verse
Wolff pushes stable orders aside
I also made up for it and sometimes had to push a little more. That didn’t work out in the end. “
Mercedes has an unexpectedly good starting position for the race. The team would certainly have found it better if Hamilton had held pole and started the long way into Turn 1 from the better side. Mercedes has to watch out for Max Verstappen at the start and defend itself against the two Red Bulls.
“The straight is very, very long. The cars behind us will have a slipstream and therefore good opportunities,” says Bottas. “So we need a good start. For us as a team, it is good to have two cars in front. Hopefully we can defend these positions too.”
If that succeeds, Mercedes may face the next problem. Because while everyone was discussing on Thursday whether Sergio Perez should win his home race, the question of the stable order also arises at Mercedes of course – although it should actually be logical that Bottas has to surrender his victory to Hamilton.
Mercedes has done this in the past, and of course you urgently need to catch up on points in the World Cup. Wolff pushes the topic aside for the time being: “I don’t want to think about that yet. It’s a luxury scenario, but it’s so ugly again,” he says. “We’re looking forward to the front row. That was important.”