I was ‘too friendly’ to Bottas in Azerbaijan battle


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BAKU, Azerbaijan — Lewis Hamilton said he respected a gentleman’s agreement with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in their fight for victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix out of respect for his team.

Hamilton had a good getaway off the line and appeared to have the advantage going into Turn 1, going in slightly ahead of Bottas, who started from pole position. Hamilton gave Bottas enough space on the outside to not compromise the Finn’s exit from Turn 1 and he ultimately lost the drag race out of the next corner.

It was as close as Hamilton got to the lead and he would settle for second position. The five-time world champion felt his best chance had got away in Saturday’s qualifying session, where Bottas stole pole position in the final seconds.

“I didn’t get the job done in qualifying, he did,” Hamilton said. “And then in the race I was too friendly at Turn 1 and basically gave it to him. He drove a fantastic race and made no mistakes so he deserved the win this weekend.”

Mercedes is known for having rules of engagement which are elaborated to its drivers ahead of every driver. These were enforced after Hamilton clashed with former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix — so far his relationship with Bottas has been far more harmonious.

Team boss Toto Wolff insisted his drivers had been free to race throughout the contest. Hamilton elaborated on his mindset in the Bottas fight and why that freedom to battle in most situations is dependent on the drivers respecting the team as well as each other.

When asked if he would have approached Turn 1 differently if the car alongside him had been a Ferrari, he said: “Definitely. Most definitely.

“It’s very very difficult — ultimately you always have to remember when you’re in a team as big as this that you are only one, and there are so many people that depend on us, so selfishly I could have for sure pushed a lot harder and Valtteri would have lost position, maybe I would have gained position, most likely he would have got overtaken by a Ferrari or something like that, so we have to work together.

“So whilst I wanted to overtake him, I had to be cautious at the same time, to give him space so that we would block the front row and stay there. Ultimately I lost out in that, but that’s a sacrifice you have to sometimes make in order for the team to win. I think if it was a Ferrari there it would have been a lot different. And that will be how it continues for the rest of the year — I think Valtteri and I have always had a lot of respect for each other, and we continue to do so. I think you can see that.

“That’s how we deal with it — we discuss it before the race, we agree as gentlemen, and we stick to it.”

The defeat saw Hamilton slip behind Bottas in the championship by a single point, but the Englishman has repeatedly insisted in recent years that he rarely pays any attention to the standings until much later in the season. But the result will give him food for thought between now and the next race, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

“In terms of finishing second, you know me, I never like to finish second, but you win some, you lose some. I look at this weekend as we had a car to have won the race. There were signs of opportunities to have won it and to have been quicker, but I didn’t deliver perfectly in all the areas that I should have. I’ll go away for sure, I don’t take it easily or lightly, and I’ll be working hard tomorrow and making sure I bring my head back strong for the next race.”

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