Lewis Hamilton believes his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas has proved his doubters wrong and insists the Finnish driver must be considered as a real threat for this year’s Formula 1 World Championship title race.
Bottas held off the challenge from championship leader Sebastian Vettel at the Russian Grand Prix a fortnight ago to claim his first victory in the sport and move to within 10 points of Hamilton .
Hamilton, who arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of Barcelona for the start of the European season with his pet dog Roscoe in tow, is himself 13 points behind Vettel after a mysteriously dour weekend at the Sochi Autodrom.
Bottas was expected to be no more than an able deputy to Hamilton at Mercedes after he was chosen to replace Nico Rosberg. But he has out-qualified his team-mate at two grands prix in succession and finished 36 seconds clear of the Briton at the last round.
“I said from the beginning of the season that Valtteri was in competition so it is no surprise that he would eventually get a win,” Hamilton said.
“Of course he is a credible competitor. He was when he joined. Many of you, and perhaps the fans, too, came with pre-conceived ideas of how he was going to perform and he has proved everybody wrong.”
“Fair play to him. He is going to remain a competitor throughout the rest of the year, so the fight will go on. We have started our relationship with a respectable foundation and I think that will continue.”
Hamilton was a distant fourth in Russia, and after the race, appeared at a loss to explain why he was so slow at a circuit at which he often excels.
But his Mercedes team have worked round the clock in a bid to ensure Hamilton is back on the pace for the fifth round of the championship – and while his boss Toto Wolff warned earlier this week insisted there would be no ‘magic bullets’ to resolve the Briton’s troubles – Hamilton is hopeful he will be back on track here in Spain.
For Bottas, he was forced to put his victory celebrations on hold by 24 hours as he headed straight from Russia to Hungary to complete a demonstration run on the streets of Budapest.
But after a night out in Hungary’s capital, the former Williams driver says he is now ready to build on the opening win of his career.
“It took some time to properly realise I won the race,” Bottas said. “It is quite nice but after a few days, it is done.”
“There are good vibes, but then there is always the next race to focus on. If you stay in the clouds too long then you fall very hard back down again,” added the Finn.