BOT­TAS ON A MISSION

Mercedes driver wants to prove Sochi was not a fluke

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BARCELONA

VALT­TERI Bot­tas seeks to prove his maiden For­mula One suc­cess at Sochi was no fluke by re­peat­ing the feat for cham­pi­ons Mercedes in this week­end’s Span­ish Grand Prix.

The un­flap­pable Finn, who has emerged as a se­ri­ous threat not only to his more cel­e­brated team­mate Lewis Hamil­ton, but also Fer­rari’s cham­pi­onship leader Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, be­lieves his de­ter­mi­na­tion, form and speed jus­tify his op­ti­mism.

“Get­ting that win has def­i­nitely given me a lot of con­fi­dence that I can do it — be­cause I al­ways thought that I had the abil­ity.

“And now it’s done all I want to do is to go and win again and again,” said Bot­tas.

Another Bot­tas win would not be a sur­prise at a venue that has a habit of pro­duc­ing more dif­fer­ent win­ners than any­where else — if he is suc­cess­ful, he will be the 11th dif­fer­ent win­ner in as many years.

The Cir­cuit de Catalunya, a track drivers and teams know in­ti­mately from days of pre-sea­son test­ing, is ca­pa­ble of throw­ing up the most un­ex­pected and un­pre­dictable re­sults.

That was demon­strated last year by Dutch teenager Max Ver­stap­pen’s win on his de­but for Red Bull.

Bot­tas’ re­cent bright form — pole po­si­tion in Bahrain and vic­tory at Sochi — has con­firmed him as a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to re­tired 2016 world cham­pion Nico Ros­berg at Mercedes where, tem­po­rar­ily, he has man­age d to put three­time world cham­pion Hamil­ton in the shade.

But that does not mean much as the teams, all with up­graded pack­ages, be­gin the Euro­pean sea­son with Fer­rari likely to set the pace if the weather con­di­tions put the onus on tyre man­age­ment.

The Ital­ian team have a car that is less de­mand­ing on its rub­ber and op­er­ates well across a wider range of tem­per­a­tures than the Mercedes.

For Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, it is a con­cern, but not yet a se­ri­ous worry.

“I don’t think there is a par­tic­u­lar pat­tern yet,” he said. “It is all very mar­ginal with tyre com­pounds, in­ter­ac­tion with the track, the sur­face of the track and the track tem­per­a­ture it­self.

“But, one thing is for sure — we have a very fast race car and a fast qualifying car. We just need to tune it and this is an ex­cit­ing ex­er­cise.”

Tyre sup­pli­ers Pirelli will take their harder tyres, not greatly loved by Mercedes on the ev­i­dence so far this year, to Barcelona this week­end.

“I think it will be close — in fact more than very close,” added Wolff.

“Fer­rari came out of the win­ter with a good car and it seems to suit Se­bas­tian a lot. So, we just need to stretch our­selves to per­form as good as we can and, if we do like we did in Rus­sia with Valt­teri, we are able to com­pete.”

He said the team had no im­me­di­ate ex­pla­na­tion for Hamil­ton’s unin­spired form in Sochi where he strug­gled with the car.

“Lewis had a dif­fi­cult week­end in both qualifying and the race,” said Wolff.

“We’ve since been un­pick­ing what hap­pened to un­der­stand why we couldn’t get the car in the right win­dow so he could feel com­fort­able with it.”

Hamil­ton said he was mys­ti­fied by his lack of pace as he fin­ished fourth to fall 13 points adrift of Vet­tel af­ter four rounds of the cham­pi­onship.

“We must give him the tools he needs to do the job in the next races and that will be a big fo­cus for us,” added Wolff.

“Barcelona will be in­ter­est­ing as our pre-sea­son was not spec­tac­u­lar in Spain. It’s a very dif­fer­ent track to Sochi and we’ll be run­ning with harder tyres. So, we are tak­ing this sea­son one race at a time...”

Fer­rari and Mercedes may be the fron­trun­ners again, but Red Bull ex­pect to be close in pur­suit with a heav­ily-up­dated car while lo­cal hero Fer­nando Alonso has more mod­est hopes.

Af­ter fail­ing to start in Rus­sia, he is just hop­ing his re­vised McLaren will be on the grid to take part in his home race on Sun­day. AFP

Mercedes’ Valt­teri Bot­tas af­ter win­ning the Rus­sian Grand Prix.

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