By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Four times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas will have no excuses this season.
Asked after testing in Spain whether he expected the 28-year-old Finn to be harder to beat now that he has settled in at the title-winning team he joined in January last year, the Briton paused to consider the question.
"No," replied world champion Hamilton, who has won three of his titles with Mercedes and is Britain's most successful driver of all time. "But I would say that about anyone, it’s nothing about Valtteri.
"It’s difficult coming to a new team and learning new ways, new controls and now he’s gone through the whole learning process and he’s going to hit the ground running.
"So there’s no more excuses for sure."
Bottas, who joined from Williams at short notice after 2016 champion Nico Rosberg retired, won three of the 20 races last season.
But he suffered something of a slump after the August break before again picking up strongly once Hamilton had won the championship in Mexico.
The Finn ended the year by winning from pole in Abu Dhabi, with the fastest lap also, and emerged from this week's first pre-season test in Barcelona with more mileage under his belt than his team mate whose track time was limited by bad weather.
Bottas knows he has to be consistently at the top of his game this year, with Hamilton gunning to become only the third driver to win five world titles.
Others are also casting envious eyes at the Finn's race seat, knowing that it could be up for grabs at the end of the year.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who will be out of contract at Red Bull, and young Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon, who is currently with Force India, are two strong candidates should Bottas fall short of what is required.
Hamilton gets on far better with Bottas than he did with Rosberg, a rival from boyhood who used all the psychological weaponry he could muster, and he expected the Finn to give it his best shot.
"He did great in the last couple of races (of 2017) which is awesome and I’m expecting him to be in tip-top shape for the season," he said.
"Do I expect him to be closer? I assume so. I’d have to assume he’s going to be in the best shape possible. But then again, so am I."
The season starts in Australia on March 25.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)