If pre-season testing is anything to go by then Valtteri Bottas could finally capitalise on both his car and potential this season, pushing Lewis Hamilton to the bitter end.
In Barcelona earlier this month, the Finn ended testing atop the pile, setting the fastest overall time with a scorching 1:15.732 lap and looking sharp in the new W11.
But while the 30-year-old doesn’t want to draw too many conclusions from his prowess around Circuit de Catalunya, he does expect the usual battle at the front when the season gets under way in Australia this weekend.
Last season was the finest year of Bottas’ career to date with four wins, 15 podium finishes and five pole positions, results that enabled him to finish second in the championship, 87 points behind Hamilton.
A championship contender for long stretches, his tilt faded when he was unable to prevent the Briton from securing his sixth world crown at the US Grand Prix.
You have to go back to 2016 when a Mercedes team-mate has properly challenged Hamilton until the season’s end. Nico Rosberg beat the Stevenage man to the title by five points in Abu Dhabi – and even then, Hamilton was curtailed by reliability issues. Bottas has only once come within 60 points of the defending champion – back in 2017.
In 2019, Bottas looked like a genuine challenger for the title, however he was unable to sustain that same level of performance across the 21-race season.
He opened the year with a commanding win in Australia, adding to further victories in Baku, Suzuka and Austin. And while he continued to push hard and earn podium places, Hamilton proved too strong in those key pressure moments.
Germany was the campaign’s nadir as Bottas clipped the curb in wet conditions and ran into the