Valtteri Bottas believes the timing of the safety car release cost him the win in the Chinese Grand Prix, saying that whilst the team did “a really good job“, the team “lost the race under the safety car“.
Bottas qualified third and leapt into second in the first corner of the race, expertly manoeuvring around the outside of Scuderia Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen at the start. From there he maintained second place, managing a gap of around two and a half seconds to Sebastian Vettel in front, until the first round of pit stops.
The Finn chose to pit first, getting the undercut on Vettel and using his new, fresh tyres to devastating effect. By the time both he and Vettel had emerged from the pits, Bottas had the lead – and looked to be fairly secure in it.
That was until contact between Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda team-mates Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley caused the release of the safety car on lap 32.
Due to the timing of the safety car release, both Bottas and Vettel were unable to pit, whilst several cars behind – including the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who both pitted for new Soft tyres.
This left Bottas on much older tyres than the two Red Bulls, leaving him easy picking for Australian Ricciardo. Whilst Bottas still finished second – his equal-best result this year – he can only see that he lost the race.
“This is disappointing; today doesn’t feel like winning a podium but like losing a win,” Bottas said. “Coming home second is not what we aimed for after the beginning of the race and the successful undercut.
“The team did a really good job, the pit stop was absolutely perfect and came at the right moment. We lost the race under the safety car. When it came out, Sebastian and I were already past the pit entry, so we were a bit unlucky – the cars behind us could react, but we didn’t have any choice. They could get fresh tyres, but I ended up doing nearly 40 laps on the Medium, so of course it was slower in the end.
“It’s very close between Red Bull, Ferrari and us, so we need to make sure we keep developing our car. Nearly winning both last weekend and this weekend is the worst feeling – but it makes both me and the entire team even hungrier. Thankfully there are a lot more races to go.”