Valtteri Bottas said he had no chance to avoid the debris that got lodged under his Mercedes at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and wrecked his Formula 1 victory hopes.
The Finn had qualified on pole for F1’s first visit to Imola since 2006 and kept the lead at the start, appearing comfortable out front early on from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
However, on the second lap at the Tosa hairpin, he struck a broken endplate piece from Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, which had come off when the German collided with Kevin Magnussen on the first lap.
Bottas explained afterwards that he had aimed to run over the debris straight on, and so avoid the risk of a puncture, but the carbon shard got lodged under the Finn’s car and caused damage to his floor and cost him aerodynamic performance that helped a long-run Lewis Hamilton to overcut him after his switch to hard tyres.
“The start was good, and that was one of the main things to get right today,” said Bottas.
“On lap two, suddenly out of turn seven, there was debris. I didn’t have time to avoid it. I aimed in the middle of the car at least, and tried not to run over that with the tyres.
“But obviously it caused some damage or something which made the car quite tricky to drive.”
After taking on the hard tyres, Bottas fell back into Verstappen’s clutches and, following several lock ups, made a mistake at the first apex of Rivazza, which allowed his Red Bull rival to drag past him into the Tamburello chicane.
“I was really pushing hard to try and avoid Max getting through,” he said.
“I had to push over all my limits and that led to a mistake, so I was unlucky.”
Bottas eventually finished in second place after Verstappen suffered a late puncture and spun off the track at the Villeneuve chicane, bringing out a late safety car.
His Mercedes mechanics managed to remove the Vettel debris during a subsequent safety car pit stop, but it came too late to resurrect his hopes of victory.
Team boss Toto Wolff said: “It was stuck underneath his car. It was debris he over ran over on lap two and he couldn’t avoid it.”