By Jill Gralow
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Valtteri Bottas is determined to make the most of his “dream” opportunity after being ushered into the Mercedes seat left vacant by the sudden retirement of Formula One champion Nico Rosberg at the end of last season.
The Finn has proved his pace over 77 races with Williams but knows he will be stepping up into the big leagues when he starts his first race for the reigning constructors’ champions at this week’s Australian Grand Prix.
“It’s a great challenge for everyone, but I think especially for me,” Bottas told reporters in Melbourne.
“This team has been winning the last three years and it’s kind of a dream come true for me to be in a team like this. So, it’s a big year ahead.”
Expectations are indeed high at Mercedes, and if Bottas fails to at least support the team’s charge for a fourth successive constructors’ title with regular podiums and points there will be no shortage of drivers waiting to replace him for 2018.
Although he finished fourth in the drivers’ championship in 2014 and has accumulated nine podiums and 411 points over his career, Bottas has never won a race.
Melbourne has thrown up a few surprises but Bottas is not banking on breaking his duck at Albert Park, however much he would love to.
“That would be the perfect way to start a season and my career with Mercedes, but I’m not thinking about it too much,” he added.
“Obviously, it’s the only thing I want, but I always want to focus on my job and work as a team and if we do our work perfectly, if I do my job perfectly, it’s possible.
“But yeah, definitely, the goal for me is to start a season in a good way and get the results early on and continue from there.”
Bottas has already been welcomed with open arms by fellow Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton but the Briton’s history with former team mates, including Rosberg, suggests the bonhomie would not last long if the Finn was a genuine title contender.
As the winner of 10 of the 21 races in 2016, including the last four, Hamilton is the clear championship favourite this season and expectations are high that he will win the Australian Grand Prix for the third time on Sunday.
Bottas showed off one skill advantage that he almost certainly has over his team mate when he took to the ice hockey rink with players from Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs on Tuesday.
And the 27-year-old made clear he would not be moving over to let Hamilton through if he got in front of the triple world champion on the Albert Park track.
“I think Mercedes doesn’t have number one or number two driver and that’s pretty much up to me to perform,” he said.
“That is to perform on the track on the level where the car should be. We’re all good and I know I can do it.”
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)