Valtteri Bottas must perform at the same level as Lewis Hamilton in the 2019 Formula 1 season to keep his Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport race seat for next year, according to boss Toto Wolff.
Bottas had a disappointing 2018 campaign where, despite a strong start, he ended up failing to win a race while team-mate Hamilton captured the world title.
With Mercedes reserve Esteban Ocon looking for a way back to an F1 race seat in 2020, Mercedes has an obvious option if Bottas does not lift his game.
“Valtteri knows exactly where he needs to be next year,” said Wolff. “He needs to have all the bad luck gone and perform on a level with Lewis.
“That is what is needed for the 2020 year. He knows very well that, and he has that in him.”
Wolff thinks that one of the key factors that went against Bottas in 2019 was bad luck, which included him losing a victory in Baku when he ran over debris on the track.
But he made it clear that Bottas must perform at a higher level and says the driver himself is well aware of that. While Bottas’s improvements on track did not turn into better results in 2018, Wolff is aware that the challenge to step up will only increase with Hamilton himself getting better.
“Lewis improving means Valtteri needs to improve,” explained Wolff. “I’ve seen that improvement all the time with him, but you are going against a five-time world champion.
“He needs a start where is right up there with Lewis and all the other drivers for the championship, that is what he needs.”
Wolff believes Bottas is capable of producing a performance that is good enough to take the fight to Hamilton.
“We are seeing the best Lewis that I’ve seen in the last six years, and there is a reason why he is a five-time world champion,” he said.
“Beating a five-time world champion at the peak of his activity, peak of his performance, is going to be very difficult and Valtteri knows that. But I think that he has it in him.
“I think that he can win – he has proven it this year on a few occasions, but he had bad luck or was in a position where he could not win.
“I think if that turns into a positive momentum that is actually driving for the championship, I think that Valtteri can win the championship.”
Bottas says he’s not worried about losing his Mercedes seat at the end of next season despite reports claiming it is going to Ocon.
When Mercedes were handing out new contracts earlier this year, Hamilton got a two year stay, Bottas received only one year but with an option for a second.
The second would be 2020, the year that Mercedes junior driver Ocon will reportedly have a “good” race seat in Formula 1 according to Wolff.