Valtteri Bottas expects tensions to rise with Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this season as he dares to do the unthinkable and beat the British driver to the Formula One world championship.
The new season gets under way here in Melbourne on Sunday, and Bottas, the 28-year-old Finn could prove to be defending champion Hamilton’s fiercest title challenger if, as expected, Mercedes begin the year with the best package on the grid.
Bottas won three times last season, but was left in Hamilton’s shadow and finished 58 points adrift of his team-mate in the standings.
The cordial relations between the two Mercedes drivers however, is far removed from the toxicity that existed between Hamilton and his long-term rival Nico Rosberg within the sport’s dominant team.
Rosberg, who has been announced as a pundit for Sky Sports’ coverage this season, is only the second team-mate – the other being Jenson Button – to have beaten Hamilton over the course of one campaign after he won the 2016 title.
And although Bottas insists he will not seek advice from his predecessor at Mercedes, he envisages upping the ante in his quest to be the driver who stops Hamilton from claiming a fifth world crown.
“If Lewis and I are able to battle harder on track and go wheel-to-wheel then for sure there will be friction,” Bottas said.
“If it comes to winning a race or defending a certain position then you need to go for it.
“We have spoken with the team about Nico’s season; what kind of things he did, how much he worked with the team, the things he focused on, and beating Lewis.
“But I don’t see the need to speak to Nico. By working in my own way, and my direction with the team there is no reason why we cannot fight for the title.”
Bottas will be under the spotlight this year as he bids to prove to his Mercedes team he should be kept on for 2019 after the world champions gave the Finn only an extra 12 months upon renewing his contract last September.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo is out of contact at the end of the season, while Mercedes young guns’ Esteban Ocon, currently racing for Force India, and even the team’s newly-promoted British reserve driver George Russell, wait in the wings.
“Everybody wants to be in the best car and that is normal,” Bottas added. “Everybody wants to move up in their career and at the moment I am in the best seat possible and I am very proud of that and I want to make the most of it.
“I am much calmer than last year going into the season. I know that I can win races, I know how much I learned, and there is so much support from everyone who wants me to do well.
“Yes, I don’t have a contract for 2019, but this year versus last year is definitely an easier feeling for me and I just have to go for it.
“I have a very high target for the year and if I can get to those targets, or even near, then I hope the future will be okay.”