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Bottas never felt ‘in a panic’ about new Mercedes deal

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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.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).