Gerhard Berger suspects Max Verstappen of having entered the head of Valtteri Bottas
Gerhard Berger believes Max Verstappen got into the head of Valtteri Bottas ahead of the Russian Grand Prix – to facilitate his passage through the peloton.
Verstappen started last in Sochi after suffering an engine penalty, in addition to a drop of three grid places for his collision with Lewis Hamilton in the previous race.
The Red Bull rider has progressed well in the standings and when a downpour in the finals mixed the peloton with pit stops for the necessary intermediate tires, Verstappen took advantage of a well-timed stop to finish in an excellent second place behind Hamilton.
However, besides strategy, Berger believes that another important factor emerged ahead of the race – in the form of a conversation between the Dutchman and Bottas, who was also among five drivers to take part-related penalties.
Speaking to F1-Insider, the Austrian referred to the conversation he had witnessed and compared it to a tactic deployed by his 1990-92 McLaren teammate Ayrton Senna.
The idea, Berger said, was to encourage Bottas to play fair – although there were suspicions that Mercedes had given the Finn a fifth new engine this season, and a second in as many races, to incur a penalty that would essentially allow him to hold back Verstappen.
In the end, that didn’t happen as Verstappen swept Bottas – who was criticized immediately after the race by Damon Hill for how easily he allowed it to happen.
Berger said: “Despite all his determination and focus, Max seems completely in the head. He knows exactly what to do.
Regarding “brainwashing,” he added, “Champions do it too. Senna visited the drivers on the grid before each race and told them about his plans. It has always worked.
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The result in Russia was, of course, what even Hamilton described as “mega damage limitation” on Verstappen’s part, as he only emerged just two points from the drivers ‘standings – and the Briton s’ expected him to take an engine penalty himself during the remaining seven races.
Berger believes the momentum remains with the Red Bull driver, who has led the championship for most of the campaign but has been hit by expensive retirements.
“I think Max will do it,” Berger said. “He finally has a car on a par [with Mercedes], it does a fantastic job.
“His second place in Sochi was more than damage limitation as he had to start from behind. You could say Mercedes had a penalty but Max saved it.