Valtteri Bottas has opened up about his struggle to match new teammate Lewis Hamilton’s form after joining Mercedes last season.
The Finn was an eleventh-hour signing after the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg days after winning the 2016 Drivers’ Championship and he admits his inexperience with the German marque gave his teammate the edge.
“What he’s been doing better than me, I think it comes mainly from experience,” said Bottas, who also noted the “definite differences” in driving styles between himself and Hamilton.
“I think ultimately mechanically the car hasn’t really changed much from the last few years, in terms of how it behaves, and it was very different how the Williams car behaved.
“So there’s been many things for me to learn, and I’ve been kind of catching up on things all the time.”
The 28-year-old was impressed with his teammate’s on and off-track performance which saw the Briton win his fourth title after a closely fought battle with Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.
“I always knew that he’s really talented for sure, and he’s quick in any circumstances always – he just goes in the car and he’s very quick.
“But that also comes from hard work, he works hard with the team.”
Despite finishing the year in third, only 12 points behind Vettel, and taking three wins (including his first in Formula 1), Bottas couldn’t match the pace of Hamilton and finding his feet within the team dynamic appeared at times to take longer than some might have expected.
“After struggling quite a lot for a couple of races, it wasn’t easy mentally because I was quite confused in the beginning – like, ‘what’s going on?’,” he admitted.
“For sure you also start to doubt what you’re doing.
“Then also when you need to change some things with your driving style and need to adapt to many different things suddenly you realise it’s not that simple.
“Then you easily overthink things and then it becomes less natural driving.
“But it’s going to a much better direction. If there’s going to be similar struggles [this year] I’m prepared for that.
“And I’ve learnt massively from those difficult races so I think I’m a lot better driver as well than for example in Spa or Malaysia or Japan.”
With the dawn of a new season rapidly approaching all eyes now turn to winter testing this month. There will be a myriad of questions as to what the new season has in store, with answers coming race weekend to race weekend.
Among them will be the fortunes of Bottas and what he is bringing to both the Mercedes table and the 2018 Championship fight. With only a year on his contract with the German powerhouse, this is a critical time in his career – a year that could be the making of a World Champion or another example of potential that never made it on the big stage.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team