Lewis Hamilton insists that he always knew that Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas would be stiff competition, and he’s never underestimated the Finn.
Bottas has twice outqualified Hamilton so far this year, and was much quicker in race trim in Russia, where he scored his first win.
“I’ve said from the beginning of the season that he was in competition, so it’s no surprise that he would eventually get a win,” said Hamilton. “But I was actually very happy. You saw at the end of the race I could at least be happy and share in the glory of the team beating the Ferraris still and keeping us in the lead of the Constructors’ Championship. I was proud of what we had achieved – I just wish that I could have backed him up, in the sense of getting a 1-2, but we can work on that maybe this weekend.
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“And of course he’s a credible competitor, he was when he joined. I think it was many of you [the media] and perhaps people who are fans, whatever, came with preconceived ideas of how he was going to perform and he’s proved everyone wrong so fair play to him and he’s going to remain a competitor through the rest of the year so the fight will go on and we’ve stated our relationship with a really great foundation I think, a respectful foundation and I think that will continue.”
Hamilton says he now understands why Bottas has much better pace in Russia.
“I think coming in to this weekend I think we definitely have a better understanding of what went wrong on our side of the garage and there’s been a huge amount of analysis as there always is from race to race.
“I think we’ve definitely grown from the experience, both having a win, having a fast car and obviously having a car that struggled in so many areas. I definitely think we are better equipped now but I can’t really say it’s going to be better this weekend. I assume it will be but there are lots of different challenges this weekend with new upgrades for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton says that understanding the 2017 tires is the biggest challenge that Mercedes is facing this year.
“There seems to be quite a small working window and it’s a new tire for us also. I think we are all learning as we go from race to race and I think for some cars perhaps it works immediately than for others. There’s different preparations.
“If you look at Bahrain, for example, the Red Bulls drove as slow as they could on the laps to prepare for qualifying but still had the tires ready whereas the Ferraris were flat out through the warm-up laps so there’s a different approach for everyone. It’s a new tire which is exciting. They are very, very hard tires so a hard, safe tire basically. It’s going to be interesting this weekend to see how they work.”