By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Valtteri Bottas could be fighting for his Formula One future this season but the Finn says he feels less pressure than last year when he joined champions Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton’s team mate.
The 28-year-old has no certainty beyond 2018, and rivals are already eyeing up one of the sport’s most coveted seats, but believes he can raise his game to the point of being a title contender.
“I think in Formula One — in any season, in any case — if you don’t perform then your seat is always in danger. That’s how it goes in this sport,” Bottas told reporters last month at the launch of the new W09 car.
“That’s a fact. But especially in a seat like this.
“For the last few years it’s been the best two seats in Formula One, so everyone wants to be there…The ball is in my hands and I need to make the most out of the year ahead, but I am confident I can.”
Bottas joined Mercedes, who will be chasing their fifth successive constructors’ and drivers’ title double this year, in January 2017 after the sudden retirement of world champion Nico Rosberg.
That meant he had plenty to get on top of immediately, unlike Hamilton, with a new team and car after years at Williams.
The Finn, who gets on markedly better with the Briton than Rosberg did in his last few seasons, won three races in 2017 to Hamilton’s nine.
He was always strong on the smoother surfaces but had a dip in form after the August break, before coming back strongly.
Bottas also failed to secure the runner-up position in the drivers’ championship, finishing third behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“After the summer he kind of couldn’t put it together in the way he expected it himself. And then towards the end of the season he was very good again,” said team principal Toto Wolff, who was previously involved in the Finn’s management team.
With Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo out of contract at the year end, and making known he would relish being Hamilton’s team mate, and Force India’s young Frenchman Esteban Ocon a Mercedes protege, Bottas has to deliver.
“Last year I learnt that I still had many things to be learnt,” he said.
“Starting the second year with this team, definitely my chances are much better to be performing every single race weekend on a level that I should.” he said.
“Last year there were many race weekends I wasn’t on the level I should have been and wanted to be.”
Bottas said he had analyzed the problems and learnt from Hamilton, having plenty of time to reflect over the winter on what he had done wrong and how to get it right, and felt energized.
“A lot of it was from my side, understanding issues after the summer break,” he said.
“I think now being not kind of a rookie in this team, for sure the team is expecting more from me. So am I,” he said. “I’m aiming for a better season than last year and for sure the team is hoping to see me performing better.
“I think last year going into the season there was more pressure than now. Still I have all the targets ahead of me and I’m really hungry for more wins and success.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)