SHANGHAI • Already looking to be in the form of his career, Valtteri Bottas served definitive notice that this season, he is refusing to play a bit part in the title fight by taking pole for today's Chinese Grand Prix - Formula One's 1,000th race.
It was his seventh career pole and his first in China, beating Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton into second, with Sebastian Vettel in third in front of fellow Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.
Afterwards, Bottas, who is the driver of the moment following his season-opening win in Australia and a runner-up finish in Bahrain, warned that his sterling display in Shanghai was still not the best he had to offer after a disappointing run last year without a race win.
Despite outdriving Hamilton and comprehensively beating both Ferraris in China, the Finn felt he could still have done better.
Bottas said yesterday: "In Q3 (the third qualifying session), honestly during those two runs, I never got the perfect lap.
"There was always something, but that's how it goes, the pace was good, it was enough. Confidence-wise, I am good.
CHINESE GP GRID
1 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
4 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari
5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
6 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull
7 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
9 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas
10 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas
13 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo
15 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren
"It has been a good start of the year for me personally and for us as a team, I feel confident. Today was a good day and hopefully, tomorrow will be again."
He has every right to be expectant of extending his championship lead, currently one point over Hamilton, today.
The Briton, who finished two-hundredths of a second behind Bottas' 1min 31.547sec, also admitted he was happy with pushing the front-runner as hard as he did.
The five-time world champion added: "I was struggling with the car throughout the weekend, even into Q2.
"Then a couple of changes with some settings, and some changes to the line and managed to bridge the gap. So, honestly, I am quite proud of the job we have done considering how far I was in some of the sessions."
While Ferrari looked strong, with their straight-line speed still highly impressive, Mercedes appear to have a definitive edge through the turns that dominate sector two.
The Scuderia will also be concerned by Vettel's comments, after the German admitted he "did not know" whether he would remain in the sport when his contract expires after the 2020 season.
Hinting his decision could be influenced by the type of rule changes F1 will undergo from 2021, the four-time world champion told reporters: "At the moment, I feel on top of my game. I know what I am doing, I am very self-critical, very ambitious and I put a lot of expectation on myself.
"I love driving, I love the sensation of the speed, I love fighting with these guys. So there's a lot of things I really like and would miss, so that's why it's not an option to quit tomorrow. I am happy to race."
DPA, THE GUARDIAN
F1 CHINESE GP
Race day: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 1pm