Lewis Hamilton’s former team-mate Nico Rosberg believes Valtteri Bottas’ pace across the three practice sessions in Paul Ricard could be down to Mercedes swapping his chassis with the seven-time world champions.
All season, Hamilton has been driving chassis number six, with Bottas in chassis number four ahead of the French Grand Prix, yet now Mercedes have switched the pairing, with the Briton now in the number four.
Since then, Bottas has out-paced Hamilton in all three practice sessions in France, topping the timing sheets in first practice.
And Rosberg believes Bottas’ pace may have something to do with that.
“Maybe it’s down to the swapping of the chassis. Because he has Lewis’ chassis here for this weekend, so maybe as a result of that he has found a lot of form,” Rosberg said on Sky Sports F1.
Hamilton meanwhile maintained the times had no bearing on his performance so far.
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“I don’t think so. I mean, it’s a different track, so very rarely do you have any differences between the chassis,” said the seven-time world champion.
Team Principal Toto Wolff also explained the switch was a formality and that it had been planned in advance.
He said: “We swap parts around all the time, and this is part of the planning as these are carryover chassis.
“They’re running for a second season, so we’re not accumulating millions of miles on one and basically, that’s part of the plan.
“But it’s good to get the feedback and if it calms the driver’s mind, we have a spare chassis which is a brand new one, we can always do that.”
Championship leader Max Verstappen topped the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the French Grand Prix, with Bottas second and Hamilton a second off the pace in fifth.
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“We were a bit surprised yesterday because this is the absolutely Mercedes track,” Rosberg continued. “Yet in the Mercedes sectors as well, Red Bull were really strong setting purple sectors, as a result of that I think qualifying will be so tight and interesting today.”
Mercedes have scored just even points over the past two street circuits, with Bottas failing to score since his third-placed finish in Spain at the start of May.
Rosberg added: “We’ve had unusual tracks in Monaco and Azerbaijan, this is more of a normal track so yes this is an important test for Red Bull to see where they are on a normal track.