Valtteri Bottas will head into Formula One’s season opener still in dreamland after securing the hottest seat in the sport – but the Mercedes new boy insists he is ready to take the world championship fight to Lewis Hamilton this year.
Bottas, the understated Finnish driver, fills the reigning title holder’s cockpit after he was elected by Mercedes to replace Nico Rosberg at the sport’s all-conquering team.
The 27-year-old is yet to win in nearly 80 appearances, but he will start the new season among Hamilton’s chief contenders for a fourth title after it was announced in January that he would partner the Briton at a team which has won 51 of the last 59 races.
The 2017 Formula 1 grid
Mercedes’ unprecedented reign of dominance will face the sternest of tests this season following a sweeping overhaul of the technical regulations – but should they continue their success then Bottas, for the first time in his grand prix career which started with Williams in 2013, will have a car capable of fighting for the championship.
“I am really excited about the new season in Formula One,” said Bottas with just five days to go before this year’s curtain raiser at Melbourne’s Albert Park. “It is a new era with the regulation changes as well as me changing to a different team.
“It is a great challenge for everyone, but especially for me. Mercedes has been winning for the last three years so it is kind of a dream come true for me to be in a team like this.
“It is a big year ahead and it is a great opportunity, but there is no doubt I will definitely need to prove myself to a lot of people and the team that I deserve my place. I see things very positively and I see it as a great opportunity for my career to fight for the wins and hopefully even for the world championship.”
Standing in Bottas’s way of winning what many will regard as an unlikely title, is his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton – a triple world champion, winner of 53 races and one of the finest drivers to step foot in a Formula One car.
It will be a tall order for Bottas to match Hamilton, who will be determined to win back his title after defeat to Rosberg last term. But the Finnish driver, put through his paces by Australian ice hockey team the Melbourne Mustangs on Tuesday, does not expect to crack under the pressure.
“I don’t fear that I will be the number two at Mercedes,” Bottas, whose deal with the world champions runs only until the end of the season, added.
“Mercedes do not have a number one, or a number two driver, so it is up to me to perform. As long as I do my job, which is to perform on the level where the car should be, we are all good and I know I can do it.
“I am very excited about going up against Lewis. He is a three-time world champion and a great reference point. Everybody knows exactly how good he is as a driver.
“It is great to be a team-mate of Lewis and I hope we can have a strong year in this era of Formula One. In testing we managed to work well together and there was a good team spirit. I see no reason why it should not continue like that.”
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