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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Mercedes team orders in Russia to avoid being 'the idiot in Abu Dhabi' were the right move

It may not have been sporting, but giving Lewis Hamilton the victory in Sochi was sensible for limiting risk of losing the title

He may not have been happy winning the way he did in Russia, but Lewis Hamilton, left, has seen his title hopes strengthened thanks to the Mercedes-GP team orders that saw Valtteri Bottas asked to make way for him. Mark Thompson / Getty Images
He may not have been happy winning the way he did in Russia, but Lewis Hamilton, left, has seen his title hopes strengthened thanks to the Mercedes-GP team orders that saw Valtteri Bottas asked to make way for him. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

After the awkwardness of Sunday's Russian Grand Prix had settled, Toto Wolff summed up well just why Mercedes-GP had instructed Valtteri Bottas to move out of the way for Lewis Hamilton to allow the Briton to win in Sochi.

"You need to weigh it up," the team's executive director said. "To be the baddie on the Sunday evening, for many reasons, or be the idiot in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season.

"I'd rather be the baddie today and not the idiot at the end of the year."

What Wolff was alluding to was the risk the team felt if they had allowed Bottas to win his first race of the year ahead of Hamilton.

World champion Hamilton gained 10 points on Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who was third in Russia, to extend his advantage to 50 points, with five races to go of the 2018 campaign.

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If Bottas had won that points gain for Hamilton would have only been three, and the lead would be 43.

The season ends with the 10th staging of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25, and Wolff's fear of being perceived an "idiot" comes down to the scenario of Vettel winning the championship.

If the German won the title by less than six points then Mercedes allowing Bottas to beat Hamilton in Russia, denying the Briton seven additional points, would really have looked ill-advised.

Now, Vettel winning the championship from here is looking a tall order, even if it had been 43 points instead of 50.

But, it is not beyond the realms of possibility, given Ferrari's overall pace is still very close to that of Mercedes, that Vettel could win the final five races of the season.

Hamilton can allow for the German to do that. He can win the title from here with one second place and four third-place finishes.

But all it needs for some bad luck or a mistake to make his advantage that little bit less convincing.

Hamilton has already had one mechanical failure in a race this season. He stopped with a fuel pressure failure in Austria in July. His car also failed during qualifying in Germany in the same month.

He got hit behind on the first lap of the British Grand Prix by Kimi Raikkonen, and though he recovered to be second he easily could have been eliminated in the incident.

All it takes is one failure to finish between now and Abu Dhabi, with Vettel winning all the races, and it will be Ferrari celebrating at Yas Marina Circuit.

It was good Hamilton was not comfortable with winning the way he did in Sochi. He should not be. Bottas did the better job and beat him fair and square until the team strategists got involved.

Hamilton can ponder the fact he is not the first world champion to need help from a teammate and he will not be the last.

Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso, Nigel Mansell and Raikkonen are among the driver’s to claim F1’s biggest prize in the past who won races thanks to their teammate moving aside for them.

This moment should not detract from Hamilton’s dominance of the season. Yes, Bottas helped him here, but it has served to strengthen an already strong position.

It has been Hamilton's consistent form that has moved him clear at the top.

Bottas has had his moments this season and Russia easily could have been his third or fourth success of the year.

But for various reasons it has not worked out for him and he has had to play a back-up role in Russia.

His challenge is to carry his form into 2019 to ensure he is not asked to do things like he was asked to do on Sunday again.