Formula One: Niceties may go out the window during four-horse race

Lewis Hamilton (left) of Mercedes AMG GP congratulates his teammate Valtteri Bottas after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia.
Lewis Hamilton (left) of Mercedes AMG GP congratulates his teammate Valtteri Bottas after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia.PHOTO: EPA

SOCHI • At the moment it is all laughing and joking, handshakes and backslaps between the drivers, but the Formula One season is only four races old and Valtteri Bottas thinks that it could all be very different by the end of the year.

The Finn won his first grand prix on Sunday in Russia and is now in third place on 63 points, 10 behind Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes team-mate.

They are both chasing Sebastian Vettel, the championship leader, who has already amassed 86 points, a lead of 37 points from fellow Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, who is in fourth.

Hamilton and the Ferrari drivers were quick to congratulate the 27-year-old on his maiden victory, with Vettel describing him as the "man of the race".

Having tasted success, Bottas is eager for more but acutely aware that it will be easier said than done.

"I just want to do it again. It's not that simple this year. It's going to be a massive fight, at least for the first half of the year. It's going to be a fight with four different drivers," Bottas said.

FRIENDLY RIVALRY

Lewis was one of the first to congratulate Valtteri. They are fierce competitors and want to win races. But I don't think it will affect the relationship and dynamics between the team like it did... between Nico and Lewis.

TOTO WOLFF, Mercedes F1 chief , believes his two drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will remain on friendly terms.

"It's going to be a long year. At some point things might get a bit more tricky and tight. If and when it comes to the championship fight there might be less talking and more fighting on the track."

That could mean that the niceties between the rivals and even within Mercedes could soon end.

The relationship between Bottas' predecessor Nico Rosberg and Hamilton became increasingly fractious last season and Mercedes have admitted it was detrimental to the team.

However, despite the bullish talk from Bottas, team boss Toto Wolff remains confident the two drivers, whom he has described as having no baggage with each other, will remain friendly.

"The relationship between the two is very intact," he said.

"Lewis was one of the first to congratulate Valtteri. Nevertheless they are fierce competitors and want to win races and fight for the championship.

"But I don't think it will affect the relationship and dynamics between the team like it did over the last few years between Nico and Lewis."

Mercedes and Ferrari are battling for the constructors' championship and have been matching each other's results, with two wins apiece.

After Bottas' victory, the Silver Arrows have taken a one-point lead in the table, climbing above Ferrari.

The next race is in Barcelona on May 14, which marks the start of the European phase of the season. It will involve the teams introducing upgrades to their cars.

With new regulations brought in over the winter, this is expected to be a development race and the second half of the season could result in teams pulling away as they find more speed.

Niki Lauda, the Mercedes non-executive chairman, said: "The season will start anew and then who has the better upgrades, and makes the quicker car, we don't know yet."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Niceties may go out the window during four-horse race'. Print Edition | Subscribe