Andy Shovlin has blamed cold temperatures, tyre wear and understeer for Valtteri Bottas’ inability to follow Max Verstappen through the field in Sochi.
Starting the Russian Grand Prix from 16th place on the grid, Bottas was lapping well outside the points before a late-race rain shower saw an inspired strategy call that put the Finn up into fifth place.
But while Bottas struggled to pass other cars in the dry around the Sochi circuit, the same cannot be said of Verstappen.
Although he started P20, the Red Bull driver quickly closed in on Bottas, passed him by lap 7, and worked his way up to seventh when the rain hit. He recovered to P2.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Shovlin reckons Bottas’ struggles were a combination of colder than expected temperatures, front tyre wear, and understeer.
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He said according to GPFans: “Principally that [with] the cooler conditions, the front tyres were having a tough time.
“We were understeering a bit so whereas on Friday, the rears were really the axle that was suffering the most, here it was the front.
“When you can’t follow in those last four corners then you can’t get close enough to overtake.
“It was really down to car balance but I think the cooler conditions were actually making it more difficult rather than easier.”
Bottas’ P16 start was the result of an engine penalty, the Finn taking his fifth power unit just one race after moving onto his fourth at Monza.
That engine, though, was said to be “done” forcing the Finn into yet another engine change.
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff concedes the W12 wasn’t up to the task of overtaking around the Sochi circuit with even Lewis Hamilton struggling when he was stuck behind a train, led by the Williams of George Russell, early in the race.
“I think we needed to provide Valtteri a car that would’ve allowed him to overtake,” said the Austrian, “because in Monza he was spectacular.
“Here for whatever reason, you saw that Lewis was struggling with the car, with understeer and if you struggle with that you can’t get close enough.
“Lewis couldn’t overtake the guys in front of him and the same happened to Valtteri, so I think we just need to understand now why the car lacks of competitiveness in traffic.”
Shovlin acknowledges that were it not for the rain, Sunday’s result could have been a lot different for Mercedes.
“Had we not had that rain at the end,” he said, “it could have been a fairly disappointing finish.
“We could have had Lewis second and Valtteri out of the points.”
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