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While Lewis Hamilton is enjoying his resurgence in the Formula One title race, Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas has headed into the summer break feeling a little let down.
Bottas has insisted this season - and last - that he is on an equal footing with Hamilton and disputed talk he is effectively the team’s No. 2 driver.
But following Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the 28-year-old Bottas was described by the team’s head of motorsport Toto Wolff as a ‘sensational wingman’ after helping to defend Hamilton’s leading position as the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen pressured behind Bottas.
Hamilton won the race, as highlighted in last week’s GulfWeekly, while Bottas slipped from second to fifth late on after clipping the back of Vettel’s car and then bumping sides with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Bottas was adjudged to have been at fault for the Ricciardo incident and handed a 10-second time penalty.
Wolff was speaking to TV reporters after the race when he said Bottas ‘deserved a podium because he was such a sensational wingman’.
Those comments did not go down well with Bottas, who joined Mercedes last year after several seasons with the Williams team. “First of all, ‘wingman’ hurts,” Bottas replied. “I don’t see any positives in this race for me. I wanted a better result.”
The weekend before, Bottas was ordered over team radio to ‘hold position’ - in other words not to attack Hamilton - late in the German Grand Prix. Moments before that team call, Bottas nearly overtook Hamilton as they resumed racing following a safety car being deployed on the wet track after Vettel had crashed.
Hamilton won in Germany to reclaim the title lead from Vettel, and he is now 24 points clear of the German driver at the top.
Bottas has already been asked several times if he is essentially a support driver, or ideal teammate, to Hamilton.
Both Bottas and Wolff have insisted he is free to compete on equal terms. After Saturday’s qualifying session, Bottas said “we are free to fight, so I’m looking forward to (the race).”
But he clearly seemed irked at being described as a wingman and said he would seek clarification. “I think we need to speak,” Bottas said. “For sure the team will decide at some point.”
Bottas won three races for Mercedes in 2017 but has yet to win one so far this season. He is fourth overall in the standings and trails third-place Kimi Raikkonen by 14 points.
Bottas was recently handed a new one-year contract. Although he has the option for an extra year in 2020, the perception is the Finnish driver will have to earn it with strong performances in 2019.
“I’m looking forward to the next weeks,” Bottas said about the summer break. “I want to come back stronger.”
He will get the chance to prove a point and challenge Hamilton at the Belgian GP on August 26.