Valtteri Bottas commended his Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team for a ‘good day’ in practice for this weekend’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, but admitted that ‘there’s still work to do.’
Finn Bottas, the defending race winner at the Sochi Autodrom, finished fourth quickest in the morning ninety-minute practice session with a 1m:34.999 lap time on the soft compound Pirelli rubber, before improving to second in the afternoon on a hypersoft assisted 1m:33.585.
Team-mate, and world championship leader, Lewis Hamilton beat Bottas by a single position in both sessions, with his FP2 benchmark being exactly 0.199 seconds faster.
“It was a good day for us,” said Bottas, who is still looking for his first grand prix victory of the season. “On paper, it looks like we should be competitive, but it’s only Friday.
“The initial feeling of the car was good; however, there’s still work to do. It’s so difficult to get a perfect set-up for each corner on this track, because the balance is different throughout the lap.”
Bottas’s concerns about finding a balance that suits the layout of the Sochi circuit are well-founded, as each of the three sectors demands something different from the car.
Sector one focuses on outright top-speed, owing to the long run to the first braking zone of Turn Two and the long left-hander of Turn Three.
The second sector is characterised by a series of ninety degree left and right turns, before a tight and twisty final sector demands good low-speed stability and traction from the car.
“We brought some aerodyanmic updates to the car that worked well and added more grip,” he said. “We’ll see if that’s going to be enough for the weekend.”
Mercedes’ main challengers, Scuderia Ferrari appeared strangely off the pace in the second session after Sebastian Vettel had topped the morning timesheets. The German, forty points behind Hamilton in the title race languished fifth in the afternoon, having not got a clean run on either his qualifying or race simulations.
But Bottas expects the Italian squad to bounce back ahead of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
“It seemed like Ferrari wasn’t really showing everything they have, so they will probably be stronger tomorrow,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be very close, so we’ll have to keep pushing.”