Valtteri Bottas has been slapped with a three-place grid penalty and points deduction for ‘dangerous driving’ in the pitlane, that saw the Mercedes driver spin and almost collide with a team of McLaren mechanics.
With his future at Mercedes is in doubt, the Styrian Grand Prix could be the right place to turn around his season on a track that suits him.
However, the Finnish driver’s Formula One weekend began with yet another disappointment on Friday when he tried ‘something different’ in the second practice and almost caused an accident.
Valtteri Bottas has received a three-place grid penalty for spinning in the pitlane during practice at the Styrian Grand Prix
The Mercedes driver tried ‘something different’ but lost control of his car in the pitlane
After a tire change, Bottas tried to leave in second gear but lost control of his Mercedes because of extra wheel spin. The car spun but Bottas managed to steer clear of a group of McLaren mechanics in front of the next box.
Bottas, fourth and 12th, was summoned to stewards after the incident which left onlookers stunned. The McLaren pit crew assisted Mercedes in helping a red-faced Bottas recover from his curious predicament, but then complained to FIA director Michael Masi.
‘Michael, that’s absolutely ridiculous,’ said McLaren team manager Paul James. ‘He could have taken our guys out there, and the pit wall.’ Masi was in agreement, with Bottas called to see the stewards.
Bottas, who said he had tried ‘something different’ in getting out of the box, was also given two penalty points for potentially dangerous driving.
The McLaren pit crew assisted Mercedes in helping a red-faced Bottas recover from his spin
Bottas is pushed back onto the road by rival team mechanics after spinning off in the pitlane
During the first practice, Bottas showed glimpses of his best racing when he clocked the fastest times in the first two sections, before exceeding the track limits in the final corner which made his lap time invalid.
The mishaps reflect his season so far.
A combination of his own mistakes, poor strategy calls by the team, and sheer bad luck has left Bottas in fifth place in the drivers’ standings with 59 points, fewer than half of team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s tally of 119, and 72 points behind the leader, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The Finn has failed to land a top-two finish in the first seven races of 2021, his worst start to a season since joining Mercedes in 2017. Bottas’ only previous campaign for his current team without a win at this stage of the championship was 2018, though he racked up four second places by then.
And while Mercedes have dominated Formula One in the last decade, where they have won the past seven drivers’ and constructors’ championships, they are now facing a stern examination of their credentials, with Verstappen’s triumph at Circuit Paul Ricard last Sunday Red Bull’s third in succession.
Bottas was met with fury by McLaren’s sporting director who complained to FIA director Michael Masi (right) about the incident
Their eighth successive title is under threat, especially with Verstappen flying in Austria.
The Dutch driver was three tenths ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, with the Alpine of Esteban Ocon third. Hamilton was fourth, 0.384 seconds adrift of his championship rival.
On the evidence of the action at the Red Bull Ring, the Dutchman remains the man to beat, but Hamilton will draw some comfort from posting a time quicker than his rival, despite it being deleted after he ran wide at Turn 10.
But Hamilton fears Verstappen will be hard to beat at a venue where the 23-year-old has won on two occasions.
‘It is a work in progress,’ the seven-time world champion said. ‘The track is awesome. We are little bit down over a single lap but the car has felt relatively solid.
‘However, we are losing a considerable amount on the straight so we have to keep working to rectify that.
‘It is very close with the whole pack but the Red Bulls will definitely be very hard to beat. They have got the edge, maybe more, and we don’t know what they are going to do when they turn their engine up.
The Mercedes driver admitted that he tried to do ‘something different’ when exiting the pits
‘But I didn’t have too many problems today and I am happier with where we got the car to.
‘I have been working flat-out all week trying to understand where I want to put the car and I am hopeful the hard work will start to pay off. I will do everything I can to make the right steps this evening.’
Double world champion Fernando Alonso finished fifth for Alpine ahead of the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel.
Lando Norris, an impressive fifth in the standings following a strong start to the season, ended the day in seventh, half-a-second off the pace.