Valtteri Bottas says his Formula 1 pre-season testing form did not show all that he is capable of, as he admitted his new Mercedes took some getting used to early on.
After his winter switch from Williams, Bottas has faced a busy winter adapting to his new team and trying to understand how best to unlock the full potential of his car.
But although team chairman Niki Lauda suggested Bottas lagged slightly behind Lewis Hamilton – especially over long run form – the Finn insisted on Wednesday that not too much should be read into his form there.
“I think the first time I was in the new car, as expected, you could tell I was getting used to everything,” explained the Finn.
“The car was behaving quite differently from what I was used to, but every single day I feel like, and I can see, I managed to make good progress in terms of long runs and short runs. At the very end of testing I started to feel more and more comfortable.
“So far, from what I have seen, everything seems pretty close, but it is only testing and we were always driving at a different time of day, doing different run plans and programmes, so it is impossible to say.
“We will find out very soon and for me I definitely feel that my rate of improvement is going to be big this year. I feel every single time I am in the car I am getting better and more comfortable.”
No number two fears
Bottas knows that he needs a strong season with Mercedes if he is to earn a fresh contract for 2018.
However, he insists he is not worried about the pressure on him to perform, nor of any potential risk of becoming a number two if he cannot challenge Hamilton early in the campaign.
“I don’t feel that,” he said. “Mercedes doesn’t have number and number two driver, so it is up to me to perform. As long as I do my job, that it is to perform at the level that the car should be, then we are good. And I know I can do it.”
He added: “I think for me it is a great opportunity. For sure it is a big challenge. There is no doubt I will definitely need to prove myself to a lot of people, and the team, that I deserve the place. But I see things very positively. I see it as a great opportunity for my career to fight for the win and hopefully even for the championship.”
Ahead of the first race of the season, Bottas says he is intrigued to see if Ferrari can repeat its strong testing form in this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix – as he predicted a tough Formula 1 title battle this year.
“I think Ferrari is looking very strong,” said Bottas. “It seems like they had a good winter. I think the pace they had in winter testing was quite interesting, and it is definitely going to be tough competition with them.
“I think they have a good package overall – with engine and car – so it will be interesting to find out if their car is going to suit Melbourne or if they are going to bring any upgrades.
“We are definitely expecting a close fight – at least to start with this season. Then it will be a long year with development.”
Bottas says that Mercedes has worked hard to bring a ‘strong package’ to Melbourne after chasing answers about why some upgrade parts had not deliver steps expected in testing.
However, he thinks that the pace of development in F1 this season will be so intense that the form book between teams will fluctuate quite a lot.
“This year it is going to be like a development race with the new regulations. The rate of improvement is going to be massive and it is really difficult to predict. It is going to be close, that is what we will see.
“It will be a long year. And whatever the pace of different teams will be in Melbourne, it might not be the case in five races.”