Formula One: Bottas says Mercedes have gone from hunted to hunters

Mercedes' Bottas takes questions from the media during the FIA press conference at the Imola race track in Italy. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MILAN (REUTERS) - Formula One champions Mercedes are chasing rather than being chased now that Red Bull have a faster car, according to Valtteri Bottas.

Although the Finn's seven-times champion team mate Lewis Hamilton won last month's Bahrain season opener, Red Bull's Max Verstappen was quickest in every practice session and started on pole position before finishing second.

Red Bull and Verstappen are expected to be strong again at Italy's Imola circuit on Sunday for the second round of the season.

"Already in (pre-season) testing we saw that we were on the back foot against Red Bull and the first race confirmed that we're behind," Bottas told reporters ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

"I don't feel exactly much pressure, but I feel excitement and motivation. We are now the hunters, not the ones to be hunted," he added.

"We try to take all the positives from that... I can definitely see the motivation in each team member's eyes to try and get them (Red Bull) and work as well as we can together to again achieve the goals we have for this year."

Bottas took pole position for last year's race at Imola but Hamilton won, with Verstappen retiring due to a tyre failure while in second place.

Mercedes have won every championship for the past seven seasons and Hamilton is going for a record eighth title.

Bottas said he still believed Mercedes could unlock more performance and catch Red Bull, with 22 races to come, but dominating would be more difficult.

"We've only seen the car from one track and we've seen quite big swings in performance from track to track," he added.

"You never know, but I can't see anyone really dominating."

The Finn said he had been at the Brackley factory after Bahrain to work in the simulator and help the team.

"I lost count of how many set-up items we tried in the simulator," he said. "At least coming here I think we have a good toolbox to choose from."

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