A sheepish Lewis Hamilton increased his lead in this year's drivers' world championship to 50 points when he claimed an accomplished victory, aided by Mercedes team tactics, in Sunday's Russian Grand Prix. "I don't think he needs to do that". Bottas pitted at the end of the 12th lap, with Vettel pitting on the 13th lap.
Bottas said the decision was "confusing" and that he was not prepared for it.
"Yeah, hard day", a disgruntled Bottas said.
And with four races to go that becomes a completely different situation.
"Today the feeling with the auto was very good and I was able to push, but I just wasn't as fast as the others", said Vettel. "[We must] make sure that from where we are now we focus on winning the last races".More news: 'Messi eats at his own table', says Alba after Wembley masterclass
Wolff later told reporters he took full responsibility for the decision and would rather be the bad guy in Russian Federation than the idiot, should misfortune strike in coming races, at the end of the season.
Rewarding Bottas with a win bonus is perhaps the best solution for Mercedes and would hopefully preserve team morale in the final push for the title. "Controversy, for whatever reason, is more attractive than happy news and smiley faces, but I don't think it's fair now asking them tough questions because I think what they did and how they played together as a team makes complete sense. In the end, for this year, if we look at the championship there's nothing I can really achieve that matters to me, so that's why I am looking forward to next year".
That was Toto Wolff's assessment of the decision to swap his two drivers, and the Mercedes team principal has a point.
With Verstappen running a long first stint, Bottas was second and Hamilton third with some signs of tyre blistering while Vettel was closing in.
Wolff said: "Rationally it was the right call, but our sporting heart says no". Ferrari's Vettel took third place, a blow to his championship hopes. I felt conflicted because that's what the team wanted, and I knew that's what we wanted, but I also knew what felt right.
Vettel leapfrogged Hamilton for second place by making an earlier pitstop, but quickly came under pressure from the championship leader.