Valtteri Bottas lacked “that last little bit of confidence” to maximise the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend when compared to Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, according to the team’s technology director, Mike Elliott.
Mercedes struggled throughout the race weekend, with both Bottas and Hamilton well outside the top ten in all three practice sessions. Hamilton however was able to turn his fortunes around come qualifying to take second on the grid, whilst Bottas was a lowly tenth.
Although some of that disadvantage can be put down to Bottas providing a tow for Hamilton – the pair take it in turns at each race weekend – he was still more than 1.2 seconds adrift of his team-mates time, with the tow worth no more than six-to-seven tenths.
Bottas then struggled in the race, falling back four places to eventually finish 12th, elevated two places from 14th thanks to the retirement of Max Verstappen and Hamilton’s restart mistake.
Bottas said he was looking for answers as to why he lacked pace, but Elliott believes it was just a lack of confidence around Baku’s narrow streets as a result of struggling to get his front tyres in the optimum window.
“I think at this circuit one of the difficulties is getting the warm-up of the front tyre and it is also a circuit where you need to have real confidence, the walls are really close and if you get it wrong you are going to put it into the wall,” explained Elliott.
“Those two things kind of go together because if you can go a little bit quicker, if you can get yourself a little bit closer to the wall because you are confident, then you get a bit more heat into the tyres. If you get more heat into the tyres you get a bit more grip and you can go faster and so you end up with this sort of positive spiral.”
It was the opposite for Hamilton though, who was able to extract the maximum performance from the W12, which in turn gave him the confidence to push it to the limit.
“If I look at the weekend I think Lewis found a little step in FP3 with setup and that seemed to help him find a little bit more from the car and all of a sudden we went from struggling a bit to being really in the front runners on the pace and Lewis took that all the way through qualifying. The lap he set in Q3 to be second, it wasn’t one lap he was actually quick all through qualifying.
“I think Valtteri just didn’t get to that position. He didn’t find that, sort of, last little bit of confidence to be in that positive spiral in the same way.
“If you look at the weekend as a whole and you look at what happened in qualifying and you look at what happened in practice there were a lot of drivers who understeered wide and put the car into the wall, presumably because they didn’t get the front tyres into the window, and to the credit of our drivers both of our drivers avoided that mistake.”
Elliott is hopeful Mercedes can learn from the weekend, but is also aware that both Monaco and Baku are places where Mercedes expected to struggle, given the characteristics of the circuit.
“We probably didn’t get the best setup. This is something we need to look at, something we need to work out how we can build the setup around the changes we’ve made and then carry that forward into future race weekends where we have similar issues,” he added.
“The other thing to bear in mind is both this circuit and Monaco are probably outliers and actually we’d hope not to have some of the issues we’ve had in the next couple of races. Fingers crossed; we will be in a better position.”