Bottas aiming for consistency

Valtteri Bottas must tread a fine line as he keeps other Mercedes aspirants at bay, while playing the support role for Lewis Hamilton as he chases a fifth world title.
Valtteri Bottas must tread a fine line as he keeps other Mercedes aspirants at bay, while playing the support role for Lewis Hamilton as he chases a fifth world title.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Finn eyes podium in Melbourne to kick start season as Hamilton in talks for $74m annual contract

LONDON • Valtteri Bottas knows he needs to step up his game from last season if he is to have any chance of keeping his place at Mercedes and has targeted a top-two finish at Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The 28-year-old won only three races last year, despite driving for the dominant Mercedes team alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton, who won nine races.

With a host of other drivers coveting the Mercedes seat for next year when Bottas' contract is up, the Finn knows this term he has to produce - starting at Albert Park.

"I do have big goals," he told reporters at the track yesterday.

"I need to try and step up my game and want to start the season well here in Melbourne. Last year, I was third in the race, so for sure (I) need to do better than that."

Before last year's podium, Bottas had a pretty poor record in Australia with 14th, eighth and fifth places in his three races for former team Williams.

He failed to even start the 2015 race in Melbourne after suffering a back injury in qualifying which required an overnight stay in hospital.

"I haven't found it to be one of my strongest circuits in the past," he added. "You know, I've always had a bit of mixed results but that's something I want to change. I can't have bad races for myself.

"I want to be consistent in every place. I think there were some positives in the race last year, so hopefully we can build on that and be quick in the qualifying as well."

His team-mate Hamilton has won only twice in Australia and finished second for the second year in a row last season - Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag - on his way to his fourth world title.

Bottas is very much aware that his primary function as Mercedes chase a fifth successive constructors' and drivers' title double is to step into the breach should something go wrong for Hamilton.

"If Lewis is having a bad day, or bad race for any reason, then I need to be able to fight for the win of the race," he said. "So I'm just going to really focus on my performance, go day-by-day, session-by-session, lap-by-lap and try to be at my best every single time I'm on track."

But Hamilton has no plans to let his high standards slip and relinquish his championship crown any time, with Ferrari sizzling in pre-season testing along with Red Bull, pointing to a potential three-team assault on this season's constructors' title.

He is reportedly ready to sign a new contract with Mercedes, which could earn him up to £40 million (S$73.9 million) per year and solidify his position as British sport's highest earner.

That would be the ideal preparation for the first race on the calendar as Hamilton eyes a fifth world championship this term.

Along with Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio, he would be only the third F1 driver to have won the title more than four times.

And at 33 years old, he is still motivated to blaze on and champing at the bit to hit the track again.

"It doesn't feel like the start of the final chapter, and I don't feel as though I am about to embark on my last contract," Hamilton added.

"I am back here for my 12th season and I am so excited. I don't know where it comes from - this feeling of just wanting to excel - but I really, really, more than anything currently in my life, want to excel (this) weekend.

"I want to hit my target weight. I want to kill it through practice, get pole position and I want to win the race convincingly. I don't know how long this feeling is going to last when I go into a new season but as long as I am still feeling like this, I will keep going."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'Bottas aiming for consistency'. Print Edition | Subscribe