Hamilton appeared on course to seal a record-breaking eighth world title until former FIA race director Michael Masi’s failure to correctly apply the rules during a late Safety Car period altered the outcome of the world championship.
Masi’s handling of the Safety Car restart enabled Max Verstappen to snatch the championship from Hamilton on the last lap. An FIA inquest into the controversial Abu Dhabi finale found that “human error” was responsible but said Masi had acted in “good faith”.
The seven-time world champion finally opened up about his title heartbreak in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, saying his “worst fears came alive”.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Crash.net at the Belgian Grand Prix, Bottas provided an insight into how his then teammate Hamilton – who entered a near-two-month social media blackout – responded to the events of December 12.
“We just saw each other after the season when we had some team events,” Bottas said.
“We had a brief chat, and yeah, he was pretty quiet about it. He just couldn’t believe it had happened.”
Despite his huge disappointment, Hamilton was praised for being gracious in defeat after losing the world title to Verstappen.
Asked whether he thinks he could have remained as composed as Hamilton was, Bottas replied: “I can be pretty composed if I need to, but inside for sure he would have had a tough time within himself.
“It took him a long time to recover from that, I’m sure. I think it would be the same for everyone who is battling for the title and you lose it in the last race, with, let’s say, special circumstances. It’s a hard one to accept.
“It can put you off in terms of how much you love the sport.”
Hamilton entered 2022 aiming to get revenge but has suffered a setback in his quest to win an eighth drivers’ crown amid Mercedes’ difficult start to F1’s new era of regulations.
Mercedes have been unable to challenge for victories so far this year, leaving Hamilton facing the prospect of losing his record of being the only driver in F1 history to win at least one grand prix in every season he has competed.
“I think for a driver like Lewis, who’s used to always fighting at the front, and used to a lot of winning, I think it was tough to accept,” Bottas said. “You could see that.
“But it seems like he is fine in the situation now and is just really getting on with the work. They are on the right path now.
“For sure, I could see it was tough moments for him in Abu Dhabi and in the beginning of the year, but now I think he’s back.”
Hamilton may have been written off by some, but Bottas warned his tough experiences will only make him stronger and backed the Briton to win another title before he retires.
“Knowing Lewis, yes,” Bottas responded when asked if he thinks Hamilton can bounce back and win another world championship. “Normally struggles only make him tougher.
“I think he had a difficult first half of the year but now lately he has been back on his form. I think he’ll be strong no doubt in the future.”
Bottas, who made the switch to Alfa Romeo following his Mercedes exit, admitted it has been “strange” to see his former team struggling after helping the German manufacturer win five consecutive constructors’ world championships.
“It was definitely strange for everybody to see, but that’s F1, you never know who gets it right and who doesn’t,” he said.
“Of course, they’ve made pretty rapid progress since their struggles and now they are actually pretty close to the top.
“It’s a big team, a big machine in a way, that they are usually pretty good at battling the difficult circumstances. I never doubted that they wouldn’t be able to improve.”