SINGAPORE (AP) Valtteri Bottas took his new Mercedes contract in his stride, even though the decision was made late in the season.
The Finnish driver, who joined as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired just days after winning last year’s title, was awarded a one-year extension this week for 2018.
Despite the somewhat late call, leading observers to speculate whether Mercedes had been looking elsewhere, Bottas never felt “in a massive panic” about whether he would get an extra year.
“At no point during this year have I got any signs from the team that they were looking somewhere else,” Bottas said at the Singapore Grand Prix. “For sure, it is a good feeling, and better than not knowing and better than having no confirmation.”
Bottas has exceeded expectations as Lewis Hamilton’s teammate, winning two races and securing seven other podium finishes to emerge as an outside contender for the title.
Hamilton leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by three points, with Bottas a further 41 behind Hamilton in third place.
Bottas has not written off his title hopes, but knows he has to score heavily in the seven remaining races to have a chance, starting with Singapore.
“I should start sooner than later to finish ahead of them, as the season end is coming closer,” he said.
However, the sinewy street circuit in Singapore reduces speed and overtaking is more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes. At Monaco and Hungary – which are both notoriously hard to overtake on – Ferrari secured a 1-2 and left Mercedes lagging behind.
“This track is not one of our strongest circuits, and maybe even one of the most difficult ones,” Bottas said. “It is a lot about the trust in your car.”
At times this season, Mercedes has struggled with its set up, causing problems with balance and rear tire issues.
“If we look at Budapest and Monaco, for example, we have been struggling,” Bottas said. “It is not the easiest car to set up right.”
Although Singapore is a night race, the sweltering humidity tests drivers’ endurance more than other races as fatigue and dehydration impact on concentration.
“Toward the end of the race here, it is more likely that you make a mistake,” Bottas said. “Physical fitness does play a role.”