SOCHI, Russia (REUTERS) – Valtteri Bottas said he would move aside for Lewis Hamilton if Formula One champions Mercedes asked him to, although there had been no talks about "team orders" ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.
The Finnish driver has met the call once already in the first three races, letting team mate Hamilton chase Ferrari’s eventual winner Sebastian Vettel on fresher tyres in Bahrain.
But such action did not mean accepting triple champion Hamilton as number one, said Bottas, who replaced retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg alongside a man second only to Michael Schumacher in terms of race wins.
“This team has never had a number one or number two driver and is not planning to,” he told reporters on Thursday when asked about the team potentially having to favour one over another.
“If I have some issues in this race, for whatever reason – we are on different strategies or Lewis is stuck behind me, or something – if the team tells me to move over, I will,” said Bottas.
“We are doing this as a team and our target is to get maximum points for the team.”
While last year the title was a battle between Hamilton and Rosberg, with the pair winning 19 of 21 races, there is a risk this season that Ferrari could take advantage of Mercedes drivers taking points from each other.
That happened in 2007, when Hamilton and then-McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso tied on 109 points and Raikkonen took the title with 110.
So far this year, Vettel has won two of the first three races and leads Hamilton, winner of the other, by seven points.
Hamilton is 23 points ahead of Bottas, who has yet to win a grand prix, while Vettel has scored double the points of Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said after this month’s Bahrain grand prix that Vettel’s victories could force a strategy rethink. “It’s not what we have done in the last couple of years but the situation is different now so it needs a proper analysis of what it means and where we are,” the Austrian said at the time.
Hamilton said he was against orders being imposed and recognised there could also be a time when he had to let Bottas through.
“It is in our rules, and our approach is that the team needs to win the race,” he said.