Angry Bottas hits out at penalty but hopes to join Verstappen-Hamilton scrap
The Mercedes driver qualified second at the Red Bull Ring, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but will have to start the race in fifth due to a penalty he received before the session.
Bottas spun his car in the pit lane in FP2 on Friday (June 25) after leaving his pit box in second gear, leading to a punishment from the race stewards for “potentially dangerous driving”.
Pole-sitter Max Verstappen and Hamilton will therefore occupy the front row for the first of two consecutive races in Austria.
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A penalty was the last thing Bottas needed in a 2021 campaign where he is yet to finish in the top two and facing pressure for his seat amid speculation George Russell could replace him next year.
Since F1 returned to Spielberg in 2014, the eventual race winner has started on the first two rows in all eight races held, while on six of those occasions the victor came from the front row.
“My personal view is [that it’s] quite harsh,” Bottas said about his potentially costly punishment.
“I never imagined after that that there would be a penalty but of course other teams, when they see the opportunity, they complained that it was dangerous so that we would get penalised.
“That’s how it goes, so everyone is always trying to screw you over in this sport.
“I mean yes, it can be a dangerous situation if there’s many people in the pit lane but no…”
Bottas has strong previous form at the Red Bull Ring, with his impressive display in qualifying to beat the time of Hamilton coming at a circuit where he has more poles (three) than at any other in the sport.
The Finn knows overtaking is difficult in Spielberg but hopes he will be able to join Verstappen and Hamilton at the front.
“I don’t think it’s the easiest,” Bottas said when asked about overtaking, with Hamilton, Lando Norris and Sergio Perez promoted ahead of him in the grid order.
“The middle sector, the high-speed corners and the last two corners is a tricky part to follow closely.
“But there’s long straights and, if you have the pace, if you have the right strategy for sure we can move up – and that’s of course going to be the aim.
“In terms of strategy we’re starting with the medium tyre. Some guys I’m battling with who are starting on the soft, so that can play a part.”
Hamilton vowed to fight championship leader Verstappen hard but maintains Red Bull have more pace despite his team chipping away at the advantage.
“We gave it everything and we’ve got a long race so I hope that the balance works for us,” said the seven-time world champion.
“It’s going to be a tough battle with these guys – they’ve generally had the edge throughout the weekend and the analysis last night was that they are a quarter of a second ahead on long run pace.
“I hope through work we’ve closed that gap but finding the next two-tenths [to Red Bull] is a little bit difficult. We will not leave any stone unturned.”
AlphaTauri had a good day with Pierre Gasly in sixth and Yuki Tsunoda qualifying eighth either side of Charles Leclerc.
But another grid penalty was handed out ahead of Sunday’s race, with Japanese driver Tsunoda demoted to 11th – ironically for blocking Bottas – meaning Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll and George Russell benefit.
Triumphs for Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Perez were impressive at the street circuits of Monaco and Baku.
But the Dutchman’s win at the more traditional French Grand Prix last time out – a race Mercedes had dominated in the previous two years – was a huge statement that gave him a 12-point lead in the standings.
Verstappen continued his momentum to take pole and is now chasing his third career triumph in Spielberg, which would make this his most successful track in terms of wins.
Bottas and Hamilton won the two grands prix here last year, though there were sweet home successes for Red Bull in each of the two years prior.
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