Finn new­bie presses all the right but­tons

New Straits Times - - Sport -

VALT­TERI Bot­tas is learn­ing fast but Lewis Hamil­ton’s new Mercedes team­mate will only re­ally find out what he is up against when the For­mula One sea­son starts in Aus­tralia next week.

The 27-year-old Finn, who has stepped into the hot seat va­cated by re­tired world cham­pion Nico Ros­berg, has yet to put a foot wrong.

He did more laps (628, equal to 2,923km) than any­one else in pre-sea­son test­ing and drew early com­pli­ments from Hamil­ton, the man who drove Ros­berg to the brink both men­tally and phys­i­cally last year.

“There are no games, there is com­plete trans­parency. I like that,” the triple world cham­pion, who had al­ready called Bot­tas a “nice guy“, told the formu web­site this month when dis­cussing the for­mer Wil­liams driver.

“I feel we al­ready have a bet­ter work­ing re­la­tion­ship than I ever had with any team mate I had be­fore,” said Hamil­ton, who has pre­vi­ously paired with cham­pi­ons Fer­nando Alonso and Jen­son But­ton as well as Ros­berg and Fin­land’s Heikki Ko­valainen.

“He wants to do the best thing that he can in his first year with the team — and with me be­ing here for quite a while now, I want to de­liver and make sure that I give as much in­for­ma­tion so that he will learn.”

Both driv­ers have equal sta­tus but Hamil­ton, win­ner of 10 of the 21 races in 2016 in­clud­ing the last four, is the cham­pi­onship favourite.

From his per­spec­tive, Bot­tas is there to score points and back up the team’s bid for a fourth straight con­struc­tors’ ti­tle.

The Bri­ton has won 53 grands prix, more than any driver apart from seven-time world cham­pion Michael Schumacher.

On his day, as pre­vi­ous team­mates will at­test, he can be sim­ply un­beat­able.

Hamil­ton is also no stranger to the psy­cho­log­i­cal trick­ery, me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tion and sheer sin­gle­mind­ed­ness that come with be­ing a world cham­pion.

Bot­tas, de­scribed by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff as “mod­est, hum­ble and hard-work­ing” when he joined from Wil­liams in Jan­uary, has yet to win a race.

But if the Finn, who has said he is “not here to be in sec­ond place“, proves as much of a ri­val for Hamil­ton as Ros­berg then things could get very tasty in­deed and the smiles will surely fade.

The cham­pi­onship is a long haul, but a Bot­tas vic­tory in Aus­tralia would cer­tainly liven things up.

“I would tell him don’t ex­pect an easy ride, that’s for sure,” Ros­berg, who raced against Hamil­ton from karts to For­mula one, said when asked what ad­vice he would give Bot­tas.

For­mer racer Martin Brun­dle said Hamil­ton would not un­der- es­ti­mate his new team­mate, who is un­de­ni­ably quick, but was bound to feel good with the sit­u­a­tion.

“Lewis must think ‘I’m in the best team, prob­a­bly in the best car and my team­mate has got all the learn­ing to do of what it’s like to be un­der pres­sure’,” the Sky

TV pre­sen­ter told re­porters. Brun­dle re­called how that had felt in 1992 when he went from un­sung Brab­ham to Benet­ton, a team ex­pected to be on the podium.

“You can be in a mid­field car and have three week­ends on the miss­ing list and no­body no­tices.

“You have one bad ses­sion when you are in a cham­pi­onship po­si­tion and ev­ery­body no­tices. And Valt­teri has not had that kind of pres­sure yet,” he said.


Mercedes driver Valt­teri Bot­tas steers his car on a wet track dur­ing pre-sea­son test­ing at the Catalunya race­track on March 2. In­set: Bot­tas.

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