Valtteri Bottas was happier after the opening day of practice for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Friday than he was three weeks ago in Bahrain, with the Finn feeling the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team had made progress with its W12 since the season-opening race.
Bottas edged out team-mate Lewis Hamilton in both sessions on Friday at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, with the afternoon’s running seeing them separated by just 0.010 seconds.
Despite feeling the car is better at Imola than it was at the Bahrain International Circuit, Bottas says there are still issues surrounding the W12, but it is still early in the season and he hopes the team can address the weaknesses going forward.
“The car is feeling much better than on the first day in Bahrain,” said Bottas. “It is a different track and type of circuit with different grip levels and surface. The weekend has started in a positive way, I’m much happier with the balance of the car.
“The car feels better, we still have the same type of issues as in Bahrain but less so. Still not perfect but we are only on event two out of 23 this season so hopefully we have time to fix it. I feel like we’ve made steps forward so that’s really good.”
Bottas says it looks close between a lot of teams heading into the weekend, but from what he saw on Friday, he does not think Red Bull Racing have shown their true hand, and they will see how Mercedes compare to them when it matters on Saturday.
“The whole grid from midfield to the front looks very close,” said the Finn. “We didn’t see the best from Red Bull today, but we’ll see that in Q3 tomorrow. No doubt they are going to be fast.
“We still don’t think we are the fastest car and we really need to improve on that on Saturday.”
“We started off with a really good set-up today” – Lewis Hamilton
Team-mate Hamilton agreed with Bottas that the team has improved the W12, and he feels it has been a good start to the weekend at Imola.
Hamilton, who won the Bahrain Grand Prix despite appearing to have a car not as quick as Red Bull, felt Mercedes have started this weekend positively, with the pace of the car appearing to be good so far.
“The team worked very hard to understand what happened in the last race where we were weak and to see if we can try to tweak the car for a better set-up,” said Hamilton. “I also think the track has come a little bit more in our direction.
“We started off with a really good set-up today, a few tweaks here and there but no major issues. So far, good pace from us this weekend.”
Hamilton also feels they have not seen exactly what Red Bull are capable of this weekend in Italy, but he hopes to be fighting with them for pole position on Saturday afternoon.
“We haven’t seen the best from the Red Bulls yet,” said Hamilton. “It looks like they had messy sessions with traffic but it will be interesting to see just how quick they are tomorrow.
“Positioning is important here – it’s hard to follow around this track so nailing the set-up and maximising tomorrow is going to be so important.”