MADRID: Valtteri Bottas says everyone at Mercedes is extra motivated going into the second round of the season, now they are the “hunters, not the ones to be hunted”.
Although the Finn’s seven-times champion teammate Lewis Hamilton won last month’s Bahrain season opener, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was quickest in every practice session and started on pole position before finishing second.
Red Bull and Verstappen are expected to be strong again at Italy’s Imola circuit on Sunday for the second round of the season.
“Already in (pre-season) testing we saw that we were on the back foot against Red Bull and the first race confirmed that we’re behind,” Bottas told reporters ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
“I don’t feel exactly much pressure, but I feel excitement and motivation. We are now the hunters, not the ones to be hunted,” he added.
“We try to take all the positives from that...I can definitely see the motivation in each team member’s eyes to try and get them (Red Bull) and work as well as we can together to again achieve the goals we have for this year.”
Bottas took pole position for last year’s race at Imola but Hamilton won, with Verstappen retiring due to a tyre failure while in second place.
Mercedes have won every championship for the past seven seasons and Hamilton is going for a record eighth title. Bottas said he still believed Mercedes could unlock more performance and catch Red Bull, with 22 races to come, but dominating would be more difficult.
“We’ve only seen the car from one track and we’ve seen quite big swings in performance from track to track,” he added. “You never know, but I can’t see anyone really dominating.”
The Finn said he had been at the Brackley factory after Bahrain to work in the simulator and help the team.
“I lost count of how many set-up items we tried in the simulator,” he said. “At least coming here I think we have a good toolbox to choose from.”
Meanwhile, Verstappen took a long-term view of his Formula One battle with Hamilton yesterday and said finishing second to his Mercedes rival in last month’s Bahrain season-opener was nothing to be upset about.
The 23-year-old Dutch driver struck observers with his calm after starting on pole at Sakhir but finishing second to Hamilton after having to give back a lead he gained by going off-track.
“I’ve always been super-calm,” he told reporters, with a hint of sarcasm.
“What do you want to do? It makes no sense to start smashing things or throwing things.
“If that’s a bad result then I’m just looking forward to the next 22 races.
“Of course, when I crossed the line I was disappointed but I think I’ve learned over the years that there’s nothing lost after the first race. The most important thing is that you score points.”
Verstappen would have finished second in the championship last year but for a lack of reliability, with the driver retiring in the Austrian opener and four more of the 17 scheduled rounds. He ended up only nine points behind Mercedes’ Bottas, who retired only once. Both won two races.
“We had a competitive package in general and we scored good points,” said Verstappen of Bahrain, where he had been fastest in every practice session. “Not first but still second so it’s not the end of the world. There are 22 races where we can do better.”
l Hamilton yesterday hailed Sebastian Vettel as his favourite Formula One rival over the years.
Without mentioning former Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who beat the Briton to the 2016 title in a fierce and often bitter battle between the pair, Hamilton praised the ex-Ferrari driver.
The pair appeared together in a virtual news conference ahead of the weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Italy’s Imola circuit, with four-times champion Vettel now driving for Aston Martin.
Both were asked to name their favourite rivalry in Formula One history.
“I’ve got a really bad memory but I’m going to say mine and Seb’s battles are my favourite so far,” said Hamilton.