Valtteri Bottas has revealed he had to bite his tongue during his five seasons with Mercedes while he was often forced to play second fiddle to team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Bottas aided Mercedes to five straight Constructors’ Championship successes while at the team – part of the their record-breaking eight.
He won 10 of his 101 races with the Silver Arrows, managing 58 podiums in the process but, while he managed to aid his team’s consistent triumphs, he never found himself in a position to mount a Drivers’ Championship challenge.
Hamilton claimed the title in four of the five years that he partnered the 32-year-old, out-qualifying him 72 times in the 100 races they had together.
As such, Bottas’ support of the Briton often took precedence over his own ambitions, and this was particularly evidenced at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix.
Bottas took pole in Sochi that weekend and looked comfortably on course for victory but, with Hamilton battling Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the title, he was told to move over to allow the 37-year-old through.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has since admitted that he “robbed” his driver of the win that afternoon.
Bottas occasionally looked a visibly aggrieved figure in the paddock as a result of his situation at the team, but never caused friction by speaking out.
Asked if things might have changed for him had he voiced any rancour at the role he was placed into, the Finn said he was unsure.
“If only I knew the answer to that, if there’s something I would have done different, how it would have impacted [my chances],” he told the Beyond the Grid Podcast.
However, he does not regret the omission of any remonstrance, adding that this would have created tension within the team.
“All I know [is] that if I hadn’t been such a team player, there would have been more tension in the team,” he explained.
“That would mean less cooperation between me and Lewis. That would mean, in long term, not as good performance as a team.”
The 32-year-old recognises the important role his cohesiveness with Hamilton played in Mercedes’ development and this, ultimately, formed a large portion of their success together.
“Because, if there’s harmony, if we can work together, then we’re playing for [the] long term, for the best interests of the team. We can develop the car together and we can discuss things openly,” he added.
“I’ll always try to think about that.”
Bottas was signed on a one-year deal to replace departing world champion Nico Rosberg at the end of 2016, and constantly needed to grapple in order to earn just one more year, in a contract situation that persisted throughout his five-year tenure.
The lack of job security played on the Finn’s mind every time he thought about speaking up.
“Plus, there’s been always this factor that I’ve been always on [a] one-year contract, and if I start playing around, what happens then?” he said.
“Also not having the knowledge of the future and what happens if I start to not to listen to the team or team orders. It’s been always a factor as well.”
The Nastola-born driver admitted that it was hard to stay quiet and accept his position within Mercedes.
“It was tough. Obviously I made a decision, I did it although it was like biting my own teeth,” added Bottas.
“It really didn’t feel natural, not right, because I’m a racer but I did it for the team.”
Eventually, his position at the team became completely untenable once he realised he was not at Mercedes to win Drivers’ Championships, but to help Hamilton win them.
“I think at the moment I lost a certain sense of… like everything became a bit more tricky after that for the rest of the season as I realised my role is now basically just helping,” he said candidly.
“And I couldn’t really digest that.”
Bottas will head to Alfa Romeo for the 2022 season, and is to be joined by F1 rookie Guanyu Zhou.
He has been replaced by George Russell at Mercedes, who has signed from Williams.
The Briton out-performed Bottas for much of the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 when he stepped in for the COVID-struck Hamilton, but a botched pit stop coupled with a slow puncture saw him finish ninth.