Bot­tas a real ti­tle con­tender

F1 Driv­ers’ Cham­pi­onship is a three horse race

The Star Early Edition - - MOTORING -

WHIS­PER it qui­etly, but Valt­teri Bot­tas is in­creas­ingly look­ing like a For­mula One ti­tle con­tender af­ter the Mercedes driver kept his cool to win Sun­day’s Aus­trian Grand Prix from pole po­si­tion.

The unas­sum­ing Finn will never be a man to beat his chest and bel­low his chal­lenge from the rooftops but, in a typ­i­cally un­der­stated way, he left no doubt that his hat was with the oth­ers in the ring.

In fact, Bot­tas main­tained it had al­ways been there.

“Since the day I signed with Mercedes, what else can you put as a tar­get?,” he said.

“It’s al­ways been the tar­get but I don’t want to shout about it too much.”

With his sec­ond win in nine races, since join­ing the cham­pi­ons from Wil­liams in Jan­uary as re­place­ment for re­tired 2016 world cham­pion Nico Ros­berg, Bot­tas closed the gap to team mate Lewis Hamil­ton and Fer­rari’s leader Se­bas­tian Vet­tel.

Hamil­ton, the triple world cham­pion who started the sea­son as es­tab­lished favourite and is sec­ond over­all, is now closer to Bot­tas - the gap is only 15 points - than he is to Vet­tel (20).

“I don’t want to think about it too much be­cause we’re not even half­way and it doesn’t help any­thing to start think­ing about it,” Bot­tas said of the cham­pi­onship.

“By mak­ing a thing about win­ning the ti­tle, it doesn’t change any­thing. You need to go race by race, ses­sion by ses­sion, lap by lap. But I know as a fact...with the points, I’m still in the fight.”

Hamil­ton, who has won three races this year and suf­fered set­backs with a loose head­rest rob­bing him of vic­tory in Azer­bai­jan and a gear­box prob­lem drop­ping him five places on Sun­day’s grid, could only agree.

“There was never a point when he wasn’t in the fight,” he told re­porters.

“I think it was only you guys that had maybe po­ten­tially sug­gested he wasn’t in the bat­tle. I al­ways as­sumed he was and that (the win) just shows he still is.”

Bot­tas was so quick off the line at the start that both Vet­tel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo were im­me­di­ately on the ra­dio to their teams to raise the pos­si­bil­ity he had jumped the lights.

A stew­ards’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that it was le­gal, with an ex­cep­tional re­ac­tion time of 0.2 sec­onds recorded by the car’s transpon­der.

Bot­tas said he never had any doubts.

“I’m de­vel­op­ing so much at ev­ery race and get­ting bet­ter all the time,” he said. Asked in which area he felt he was mak­ing par­tic­u­lar progress, the Finn smiled: “From to­day, it seems like race starts.”

- Reuters

Finnish driver in­sists the tar­get was al­ways to win with Mercedes.

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