Bottas qualified sixth for the 2021 season finale at Yas Marina, lapping over nine-tenths of a second off pole-sitter Verstappen of Red Bull, who will start side-by-side with Hamilton on the front row of the grid.
Hamilton and Verstappen are tied on points going into the final race, while Mercedes leads Red Bull by 28 points in the constructors’ championship, leaving both titles undecided.
Asked about the possibility of being used by Mercedes to try and hold Verstappen up if the opportunity arises, Bottas said: “I’m ready to sacrifice my optimal race.
Valtteri Bottas says he is ready to “sacrifice my optimal race” to help Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes win both Formula 1 world titles in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff sees things slightly differently though, as he reckons the soft tyre is not ideal. But equally, the situation is not especially clear cut.
“I hope to believe that starting on the soft is a disadvantage,” he said. “But it may not be. It may be you disappear into the distance with the soft in the first few laps and then you hold track position.
“But, on the other hand, there could be quite some degradation. So the truth is, I don’t know what the plan is and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. It’s two different strategies and then we will see what works.”
What the soft tyre should do is give Verstappen a better start from his pole slot than Hamilton – and that will then give him the free air he needs to exploit an early pace advantage from the rubber.
“You’re starting the clean side, you’re on a better tyre,” added Horner. “It’s just important to focus on our race, and we’re going to focus on ourselves and not worry about what they’re doing.”
What an early sprint for Verstappen could do is give him the gap he needs over Hamilton to even go for an aggressive two-stop strategy, where he tries to exploit any gain from fresher tyres.
In the past, Abu Dhabi has been a quite straightforward one stopper, due to the lengthy pitstop time, but the possibility is there this time around to try something different – especially with overtaking chances slightly improved thanks to track tweaks.
“I mean the two-stop is always a viable variant,” explained Wolff. “You think that you can attack going on a two-stop, or you can manage and try to make a one stop – which could be tricky at the end.
“I think we need to see. We saw some quite some deg on the soft in the long runs, less so on the medium, which makes it exciting in terms of the strategies. A one-stop looks good, and the two stop is definitely on also as a variant.”
What Mercedes will also need to bear in mind is that Hamilton could be exposed to an early attack from behind, with both third placed Lando Norris and fourth fastest Sergio Perez starting on softs.
If the pair manage to get the jump on Hamilton early on, thanks to their tyre advantage, it could hinder the pace of the Mercedes driver and give Verstappen a better chance to open up an advantage.