The team decided to swap Bottas who was running in the lead with Hamilton to give the British driver a 50 point lead in the championship over Sebastian Vettel, who was his nearest rival.
The team orders had huge consequences for Bottas who would have finished 3rd in the championship had he collected 25 points for the win in Russia. Bottas ended the season finishing 5th in the drivers championship, 2 points behind Verstappen and 4 behind Raikkonen. The additional 7 points he would have earned for the win in Russia would have seen him finishing in 3rd place.
The orders were issued to Bottas who had led most of the Sochi Grand Prix having started from pole, until he was asked to move aside for Hamilton who had been struggling with his tyres.
The incident was described by Wolff in a written review of the season where he wrote: “We had to execute this awful team order. It was Valtteri’s race to win and in order to collect the right points for Lewis, we decided to switch the order.
“It was something that nobody likes, you could see the faces clearly not happy about the situation and also myself, it was something that goes against all our racing principles and ‘may the best guy win’.
“But in that instance, we had such a tough fight with Ferrari that there was no way we would leave points on the table. When Valtteri moved aside, it broke my heart, and I felt for him because I felt really terrible about it. But this sport can be cruel sometimes and this was one of those moments.”
After the race, the Finn was clearly quite upset with the decision and the loss of a first place finish but insisted that he would “take one for the team” and do it once again if needed.
Lewis Hamilton also admitted that he found the team order situation very uncomfortable and that he hoped that team orders were not repeated again: “Russia was a difficult race for me,” Hamilton explained.
“Neither Valtteri nor I sit in the room and say we want the cars reversed. We just want to go out there and earn the position and race for it and ultimately Valtteri was quicker that weekend and deserved to win. It was really awkward and when I got the call that Valtteri was going to let me by and I said something like ‘just tell him to speed up’.
“It’s not ever the way that I’ve wanted to win, so coming across the line I was very conflicted because if I think with my heart, I would have had it the other way,” he added. “But in life and in competition you have to seize the moment and if you put your feelings first, you might not come out where you planned.
“Even though I really wanted for the whole rest of that race to just let him back by, I choose to stick with the decision the team had made and I think it was the right thing to do.
“It was an important day in the sense how we come together [as a team]. It was a hard day for Valtteri but I think he was incredibly respectful and a really great team player. I really hope that there is never a scenario like that again.”
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing