Mercedes F1 driver Valtteri Bottas believes that he has been eliminating the poor performances that hampered his 2017 season.
The Finn joined Mercedes for the start of 2017 and, after taking three wins and four pole positions in his first season with the team, earned himself a one-year extension to his contract, taking him into 2018.
Despite the flashes of pace, Bottas rarely threatened in last year’s championship challenge, something which he is hoping to address through executing a more consistent season.
Speaking after the Spanish Grand Prix, Bottas said that he believed he has so far eliminated the weekends where he was “way off the pace”.
“I think this year I have been meeting more or less my targets with the performance for the beginning of the year,” said Bottas.
“I think I’ve been able to really continue good performances from the end of last year.
“And there have been no weekends that I have been way off the pace, like there were a few last year. So I feel I have learned from those, and need to continue my development.
“There are never things that you can’t learn more, so I still hope I keep improving. I think there’s been quite mixed races, and the end results haven’t been really I feel sometimes quite there, that I feel would have been possible with the pace we’ve had.”
On face value, Bottas’ first five races of this season could be viewed as being less successful than his first five from 2017; at this stage last year, he had one win and 63 points to his name, whereas this year he has 58 points and is yet to win a race.
As is often the case in Formula One, the results don’t tell the full story.
Questions may have been asked following his self-inflicted crash (and subsequent gearbox change) during qualifying for the first race in Australia, but since then his performances have generally been the match of his reigning world champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
In Bahrain he gave a much-needed display of speed. He out-qualified and out-raced Hamilton – although the latter was aided by Hamilton’s gearbox penalty – but some critics still had question marks over his performance due to his inability to make a late-race overtaking attempt on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
He was then hit by by some poor fortune that potentially denied him two victories.
The timing of the safety car in the Chinese Grand Prix mean that Red Bull were able to make the switch onto the faster tyres and fight through to take the win in Shanghai, with Bottas finishing second despite completing arguably his strongest race of the year so far.
Whilst the virtual safety car initially gave Bottas the chance to win in Baku, a cruel puncture eliminated him from the race lead with just a handful of kilometres to go.
He might’ve been out-performed by Hamilton in Spain, but his time deficit is partly-attributed to the high levels of wear experienced on a mammoth 47-lap stint on the medium tyres.
After Spain, Bottas is 37 points behind current championship leader Hamilton, but he insists that his approach is very much “race-by-race”.
“It’s pretty much the same. We’re so early on in the season, and I hope that I have had my bad luck for the year. At least for us we got a good edge on Ferrari this weekend with the points, but also early days.
“And at least I got closer to Sebastian [Vettel] in the points, ahead of Kimi [Raikkonen], so that’s good. But it’s still early on, so I don’t really want to think about the points, I just really want to focus race-by-race.”
Bottas will be well aware that a challenge for the championship – as well as maintaining a good relationship with the team – would do wonders for his efforts to secure another contract extension with Mercedes.
He refused to rule out accepting another one-year deal, but he stated that his preference would be for “at least” a two-year deal.
“I would like to stay with this team, hopefully for a long time,” he told Motorsport. “That is my target. As long as I keep performing like I’ve been performing this year so far, naturally it should be OK, all good.”
“I always kind of had one-year deals, so I would naturally like to know at least for the next two years what I’m going to do.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff added that he had seen a noticeable improvement from Bottas over the first few races of the season, which he believes is vindicating the decision to keep him for 2018.
“Valtteri has been upping his game through the last races and has been very solid indeed,” said Wolff.
“And that proves us right with our decision back in the day. And having the two drivers close to each other in terms of performance levels, and equally respecting each other and racing each other fair is the best case.”
All images: Motorsport Images
What do you think of Bottas’ performances so far? On his current form, do you think Mercedes should keep him for 2019? Leave your comments below.