Valtteri Bottas believes that Williams has lost ground on Mercedes and Ferrari over the winter and is further behind the leading teams than in the past two years.
Bottas has led Williams’ charge up the grid in Formula 1 in recent years, taking it to third place in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and 2015.
The British team had hoped to charge this upturn in fortunes into a challenge against the big manufacturers in 2016, but has struggled in the opening two races of the season.
Bottas and teammate Felipe Massa ran second and third at the end of the first lap in Bahrain, but dropped back through the race to eventually finish towards the bottom of the top 10.
Speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference, Bottas acknowledged that Williams had lost ground on Mercedes and Ferrari compared to previous years, and instead faces a tougher challenge from the midfield teams this season.
“I’s been quite a tough first couple of races, and especially for me pretty unlucky, things happening, and just looking forward to getting a nice, clean weekend and seeing what kind of results we can actually do with a proper weekend,” Bottas said.
“But it seems that it’s going to be a really tough year, very close. Ferrari and Mercedes are definitely more far away now that in the last two years.
“So that’s unfortunate but we just need to keep trying and getting closer and yeah after that we are in that field of a few teams – Red Bull and Toro Rosso, they seem to be very close – so every single bit we can improve this season is going to make a big difference.”
The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.
It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.