Valtteri Bottas felt his quest for a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix podium finish had been made harder by a Mercedes “mistake” during the first stoppage.
The Finn, who started second on the grid, had been into the pits for hard tyres under the Safety Car – like his team-mate Lewis Hamilton – just before the race was red-flagged following Mick Schumacher’s crash.
Bottas had to stick with those hard tyres for both restarts instead of Mercedes taking the opportunity for a free change and lost places to rivals on the medium compound, but he eventually worked his way through and snatched third place from Esteban Ocon by outdragging him on the final run to the line.
It meant the 32-year-old, on his 100th and penultimate race start for Mercedes, helped them build a 28-point lead over Red Bull going into the concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and is now secure in P3 in the Drivers’ standings behind title rivals Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
“It was not an easy day,” Bottas told reporters afterwards. “There were many obstacles and obviously with the red flags and everything made it a bit tricky – and with the first red flag, being on the hard tyre, that was a mistake I think. The first red flag really had us over.
“Some of the guys with the medium tyres got me, but then I got the mediums after and it was okay. I just kept pushing. It wasn’t easy to overtake but finally on the last straight I got third.”
That’s was quite a race
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) December 5, 2021
The cars with which Bottas was battling were Ocon’s Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, the latter having collided with the Mercedes man at the recent Mexican Grand Prix.
“It makes a difference to be fourth or third,” said Bottas. “Obviously Esteban had a good race and they were actually surprisingly quick and it wasn’t easy to get him, but I got him just at the end. Just kept pushing and it was worth it not to give up.
“He actually was driving really well and also before that I was stuck behind Daniel for a long time, which made me consume my tyres quite a lot. Actually my front right tyre was pretty finished, so that made it even more tricky.
“Once I dropped to fifth at the first restart, I knew it would be all about being patient and eventually getting there, whatever would be possible. It was a bit closer than I thought, but made it.”
On his battle with Ricciardo, Bottas added: “We obviously didn’t collide this time, so that’s a bonus. It was good racing. It was a tough race, pretty intense, but I enjoyed it.”