Valtteri Bottas admitted it could be “very easy” to criticise his performance against Mercedes Formula 1 debutant George Russell after struggling to keep up during the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Williams regular Russell was drafted in by parent team Mercedes for last weekend’s race after seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.
Russell qualified second behind Mercedes teammate Bottas, but seized the lead off the line and opened up an eight-second lead shortly after the first round of pit stops.
But a mistake in the pits by Mercedes followed by a late puncture dropped Russell to ninth, finishing one place behind Bottas, who struggled on old tyres in the closing stages.
The weekend saw Russell win widespread praise for his display, only fuelling suggestions he could one day replace Bottas at Mercedes and become Hamilton’s teammate.
Bottas insisted after the race that he stood a chance of catching Russell during the hard tyre stint, having gone three laps longer than his teammate before pitting to get a small tyre delta.
The Finn had cut the gap from eight seconds down to five, and felt he was on course to set up a close fight in the final stages of the race.
“I knew that in the first stint with the medium tyre, the track position would be important, so obviously was unfortunate to lose that,” Bottas said.
“But in the second stint, I was catching him at a pretty decent rate, so I knew everything is going to be open and most likely we’ll have a good battle.
“I still knew that everything was going to be to play for, especially towards the end of the stint on the hard tyres.”
Bottas said during the race he was not thinking about the possibility of being beaten by Russell on his Mercedes debut, but acknowledged the result did not look good without considering the possible end result.
“In the race, I just tried to make the most out of it, and I knew that it’s going to be a long race ahead, so I don’t think about those kind of things,” Bottas said.
“But now thinking about it, for sure, if you don’t know things, then I’d have looked like a complete c**t and a fool. So that’s not nice.
“It was a pretty bad race for me from that side, and it will be very easy for people to say a new guy comes in and beats the guy who’s been in the team for a few years. So it is not ideal.
“But the people who know, they know how is the performance, and they know how the end result could have been.
“I don’t know what to say really. Not ideal, obviously, this weekend.”
Bottas’s hopes of victory were dashed at the second pit stop when Mercedes tried to double-stack its cars, only for a radio failure to result in his tyres being fitted to Russell’s car.
It meant Mercedes had to re-fit Bottas’s worn hard tyres to his car after a long wait, causing them to lose temperature and leaving him unable to defend from the drivers behind on the restart.
Bottas was passed by Russell at Turn 5 before losing further positions to Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat, shuffling him back to eighth in the final classification.
“That was a nightmare, being on the old, hard tyres, that had already lost a bit of temperature in the pit stop,” Bottas said.
“Against guys with fresh mediums around, I was like a sitting duck. It was a pretty nightmare situation.”
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