Lewis Hamilton has told Valtteri Bottas that he will return the winning favour when he has secured his fifth world championship.
Hamilton will take part in the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, the first of five remaining races, with a 50-point lead over Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel after Mercedes used team orders in Russia.
Bottas was instructed to move aside for team-mate Hamilton who won in Sochi to take the title race out of Vettel’s hands. Indeed, Hamilton can now afford to finish second at all of the concluding rounds and still be crowned champion.
“Last season, Valtteri won quite a few races, and he has the possibility of winning more by himself.”
Hamilton, 33, was back in the UK on Monday, posting a motivational Instagram message to his 7.5million followers, before heading to Mercedes’ headquarters in Brackley, Northamptonshire.
He will then travel to the Far East on Tuesday to prepare for a race he has won in three of the past four years.
Not only is Hamilton closing in on the drivers’ championship, but Mercedes are now firm favourites to become only the second team in history to win five consecutive constructors’ championships, too. Ferrari won six on the bounce at the turn of the century.
The Silver Arrows are 53 points clear of their Italian rivals, but a typically-cautious Toto Wolff insisted his team’s display in Sochi may not be par for the course.
“You can go to the next race in Suzuka, and the one after that in Austin and have a disastrous weekend,” the Mercedes team principal said. “I have seen freak results in motor racing.
Wolff will also be tasked with ensuring Bottas’ confidence is not dented as Mercedes go about closing out the constructors’ title.
“Valtteri is such an intelligent guy and understands how the team dynamic goes,” Wolff added.
“What we discussed was if he were in Lewis’ situation, would he expect the team to work for him? And the answer is clearly yes.
Bottas, who signed a one-year extension in July to stay with Mercedes next season, added: “I am prepared to play for the team. I took one for the team today, I will take one for the team tomorrow.
“That’s how it goes, but I am also looking forward to next year and starting a new season.”