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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 February 2019

Valtteri Bottas looks to calm approach to beat Lewis Hamilton to 2019 Formula One title

The Finn believes he can beat his world champion teammate by becoming stronger from past setbacks

Valtteri Bottas is hoping for more from 2019 after a winless 2018. AFP
Valtteri Bottas is hoping for more from 2019 after a winless 2018. AFP

Normally when someone shares a statistic with Michael Schumacher that can only be a good thing. But for Valtteri Bottas the final result in 2018 that saw him fall in the same bracket as the most successful driver in Formula One history was not one he wanted.

Last year, Bottas became the first driver since Schumacher in 2012 to have a winless campaign in a Mercedes-GP car.

The German marque has been the dominant force in F1 of late, winning the past five constructors' titles, but they did it last season without Bottas ever standing on the top step of the podium.

What made it more galling for the Finn was that world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton won 11 times on his way to claiming his fifth drivers' championship.

The build-up to the 2019 season, which starts on March 17 in Australia, begins on Wednesday with the launch of the F1 W10 - the car Mercedes hope will extend their winning ways.

For Bottas, who joined Mercedes in 2017 and won three times in his debut year, this could be the year that defines the direction of his career.

Another year similar to 2018 and he will almost certainly lose his seat to Mercedes's highly rated reserve driver Esteban Ocon, who is without a drive after being dropped by Force India following their takeover.

Given the pressure on 29-year-old Bottas, it is to his credit that when asked what his objective is for 2019, he was forthright in his reply.

"Only one goal," he told The National. "Try to win the championship."

Having a zero in the wins column did not do justice to Bottas in 2018. There were times, particularly early in the season, when he was more impressive than Hamilton.

A safety car period at the wrong time cost him the win in China, while a puncture in the closing laps forced him out in Azerbaijan when he was leading.

Then, of course, there was Russia in September when he was ordered to allow Hamilton to overtake him for first place to aid his teammate's title challenge.

Bottas, who finished fifth in the drivers' standings - 161 points behind Hamilton - conceded it was not easy recovering from the difficulties he faced.

"The biggest challenge has been the amount of disappointments, personally," he said. "As a team we won everything so I'm really glad to be a part of this team, to be able to do this.

"But on my personal matter, on my goals what I had for the season, there was many setbacks and sometimes many in a row. Trying to come up after those that was sometimes difficult.

"It will make me better and stronger and, again, I've learned massively which can help me in the future."

Even if there are more dramas ahead for Bottas, he is unlikely react, at least not in public. Like many of his Finnish predecessors such as Kimi Raikkonen and Mika Hakkinen, Bottas has become adept at giving little away emotionally.

"I don't know, it's who I am," he said when asked if it was a deliberate approach. "Maybe, from where I come from, people are used to hiding feelings. It doesn't mean we don't have feelings.

"I've always just been myself and I've learned throughout my career that sometimes getting too upset doesn't help anything, it can sometimes make things worse.

"Internally, with the team, we always speak about everything and I have many people that I can speak things through and so on."

Bottas is reluctant to make any bold predictions on how 2019 will shape up, but he is wary of Red Bull Racing.

"It's going to be a new season, there's some regulation changes for the aerodynamics so first we need to see which team gets it right," he said.

"We can't underestimate Red Bull. They've really getting stronger and stronger through the year. If Honda can bring them a good engine next year, they can be a good strong team throughout the whole year rather than just for the events.

"So, impossible to say. We just need to focus on trying to be on top of our game because it's not getting any easier."

Updated: February 13, 2019 08:38 AM

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