Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called Valtteri Bottas a ‘sensational wingman’ to Hungarian Grand Prix-winning team mate Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, a description that stung the unsmiling Finnish Formula One driver.
“First of all, wingman hurts,” Bottas told Sky Sports television after a race in which he had started second and held off the chasing Ferraris until worn tyres ultimately left him defenceless.
“Second, I don’t see any positives in this race for me. I wanted a better result.”
Collisions with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton’s closest rival, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo left Bottas fifth at the finish.
He was then hauled in by the stewards for the Ricciardo incident and given a meaningless 10-second penalty and two penalty points.
Asked whether ‘wingman’ was something he had to accept, driving for Mercedes, Bottas replied: “We need to speak after this race. We are over halfway of the year. The points gap is big, so for sure the team will decide at some point.”
Bottas is 81 points behind Hamilton after 12 of 21 races, and fourth overall.
Given a new contract for 2019, with a further option for 2020, his place at the team is secure even if he has yet to win this season while four-times world champion Hamilton has been triumphant five times and leads Vettel by 24 points.
But the Finn does not want to be seen as a compliant number two and still harbours hopes of eventually beating Hamilton, just as his predecessor Nico Rosberg did in the 2016 championship.
Speaking to reporters separately, Wolff said he had meant to be positive.
“Starting P2 (second) and being P2 after lap one, Valtteri’s race was the perfect wingman’s race,” explained the Austrian.
“I don’t mean it in championship terms. We have no number one and no number two but it was just how he was racing. It was, from my standpoint, the best race so far with Valtteri at Mercedes in the last two years.
“And the bittersweet feeling that I have is that he would have deserved to finish P2, where he started and where he was after lap one.
“But maybe the word wingman doesn’t do him justice. He just drove a sensational race and helped Lewis in a way to build the lead.”
Hamilton had started on pole position and made a clean start while Bottas slotted in behind but came under immediate attack from Vettel, who had already passed team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Bottas held his ground, and then defended well at a circuit where overtaking has always been extremely difficult.