Despite failing to reach the level of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Valtteri Bottas still believes that Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport will be able to challenge fo pole position come Saturday.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff‘s speculation that the Monaco Grand Prix weekend will be “bloody difficult” for the team rang true on Thursday in the principality. Bottas found himself in seventh and sixth in Free Practice 1 and 2 respectively, over a second shy of Daniel Ricciardo‘s morning time. The Finn managed to close the gap to the Red Bull driver to eight-tenths in the afternoon.
Furthermore, Bottas could not match his team-mate Lewis Hamilton but he said that both his and Mercedes’ struggles weren’t a total surprise, saying that they expected good pace from both Red Bull and Scuderia Ferrari.
“As we expected it was quite difficult today,” said Bottas, who earlier this week said that he remains confident in his ability to win races despite the talk about his future beyond 2018.
“We thought that Red Bull and Ferrari were going to be quick here and they were. The car didn’t feel great in FP1 and we struggled a bit on the hyper-soft tyres. In FP2, we got it to work better.”
Bottas took encouragement from the relative closeness of the top three teams and said that it’s a matter of set-up in order for Mercedes to trouble the top of the timing screens. However, the Finn acknowledges that the all-important Qualifying session on Saturday will be “the most challenging qualifying session we’ve had this year.”
“The gaps between the three teams are not too big though, which is good,” reflected Bottas.
“We know our car has a lot of pace, but it is difficult to find the right set-up for this track. If we can find a good set-up and get some good laps in for qualifying, we should be able to fight for the pole, but I think it will be the most challenging qualifying session we’ve had this year.”
Exactly 20 years ago to the day, Bottas’s mentor and idol Mika Häkkinen took victory for McLaren – powered by a Mercedes-Benz V10 – in Monaco on his way to the 1998 title; and to commemorate the occasion, Bottas is sporting Häkkinen’s distinctive helmet design. He hopes that the change will hold him in good stead as he looks for his first victory in 2018.
“I’m very proud to be driving with my special Mika Häkkinen helmet in Monaco this weekend,” he said.
“Mika has proven in the past that the helmet design and a Silver Arrow are a good combination, so hopefully I will be able to get a good result as well.”