Mercedes’ Toto Wolff defends Valtteri Bottas mistake at Styrian GP – ‘It’s pretty harsh’

F1: Hamilton and Bottas take the W12 Mercedes around Bahrain

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has defended his driver Valtteri Bottas after he received a three-place grid penalty for “dangerous driving” in the pit lane ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix.

Bottas had just come into the pits to change his tyres during free practice two, when he accelerated away from his pit box in second gear, lost the rear, and subsequently slid down the pit lane towards the McLaren pit box, with the Mercedes left pointing the wrong way.

McLaren were left fuming on the radio to FIA Race Director Michael Masi saying it was “absolutely ridiculous” and that “he could have taken our guys out.”

Bottas was summoned to the stewards for the incident and handed a three-place grid penalty for “dangerous driving” with the stewards saying Bottas had told them he had tried something different from normal.

The penalty means Bottas can start no higher than fourth on the grid in Austria, with two penalty points also added to his superlicence.

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Speaking to Sky Sports F1 ahead of qualifying in Austria, Wolff said: “I think it is pretty harsh to be honest because Valtteri is a driver who never takes.. or does anything risky.

“He launched himself out of there, spun the car and a three-place grid penalty but you need to take it on the chin. It is not great for our race strategy.”

Asked if the penalty had changed Mercedes’ approach to qualifying, he added: “You can’t really change things. We can’t ask Lewis [Hamilton] to slow down to give Valtteri a pole.

“Flat out, Valtteri knows he very much needs to be in front to not lose too many places.”

Ahead of his trip to the stewards, Bottas said: “We tried something different getting out from the box and there were some variables to what we normally do with the wheelspin, so that’s why I spun.

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“I would be surprised [if the stewards took action]. It’s a normal mistake, it happens. I’m sure they want to understand what happened.”

However, the stewards disagreed with Bottas and believed the incident had been potentially very dangerous.

“When BOT pulled away from his designated pit stop position, he lost control of the car when he turned into the fast lane,” read a stewards’ statement.

“He oversteered, spun, and came to a stop across the fast lane near the McLaren pits.

“During the hearing BOT stated that in the past they have been losing time in the pit departure. So they tried something new, which was to leave in second gear.

“As a result, the wheel spin was much higher and the result unexpected. Therefore he didn’t manage to control the car properly into the fast lane. This has to be considered as potentially dangerous driving, especially as personnel were around in the pit lane.”

Max Verstappen leads the way with a 12 point lead over Hamilton in the driver’s standings, with Red Bull coming into the race weekend with a 37 point lead over their rivals Mercedes.

The race gets underway at 2pm on Sunday, with qualifying ahead of the Styrian GP taking place on Saturday afternoon.

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