An interesting, if not tense, dynamic is bubbling at Mercedes, as Valtteri Bottas increasingly becomes the team’s sacrificial pawn in this year’s title battles.

After swearing allegiance to the cause from winning Mercedes its eighth Formula 1 world title in as many years, as well as helping team-mate Lewis Hamilton to an eighth as well, things took an interesting turn on a dramatic Grand Prix weekend. from Russia.

It was well noted that during the race when racing for position with Max Verstappen, Bottas practically stepped aside to allow the Red Bull driver the kind of passage that the best willing drivers will give a teammate, let alone a title rival.

A fact noted by the 1996 F1 world champion, who became Sky F1, pundit Damon Hill, who said of Bottas on Sunday: “You can’t ignore the fact that the guy who came in second started the race behind him and his teammate won.

“In the race we expected Valtteri to put up a bit of defense to fight off the Mercedes corner against the Red Bull team and Max Verstappen, but he seemed to wave him through. Maybe he didn’t. just didn’t want any trouble. He doesn’t seem to run. It was almost like a gift for Max.

So much so that Red Bull cheekily tweeted: “Valtteri is Max”

Bottas capitulating so easily to Verstappen reminded Gerhard Berger of the mind games played by Ayrton Senna in his prime: “With all his determination and focus, Max seems completely confident in his mind. He knows exactly what to do.

“An example: Before the race, Verstappen had a conversation on the grid with Hamilton’s teammate Bottas, who also had to start close. I guess he told him to stay out of the title fight.

“Champions do that too. Before each race, Senna visited the drivers on the grid and told them his plans. It always worked,” recalls the Austrian.

For the race in Russia, Bottas picked up a fifth Mercedes PU at Sochi after changing one at Monza two weeks earlier, suggesting he has become the engine test driver for Hamilton’s title bid.

He saw the fun side of another PU change, for the Sochi race, by posting an image himself on Instagram with a bunch of old engines in the background.

Either way, Bottas will be the sacrificial pawn when needed, perhaps not anymore in his last eight races with Mercedes, and just how willing he will be, as the title battle heats up, is the big question with big ramifications both ways. .

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