SAKHIR, BAHRAIN —Valtteri Bottas has admitted he’s “surprised” by his performance in qualifying for the Formula 1 season opener, which sees him line up alongside former teammate Lewis Hamilton on the grid.
Mercedes exhibited serious issues with porpoising on Saturday, with the W13 way off the pace of rivals Red Bull and Ferrari. Meanwhile, Bottas’ new team, the perennially-poor Alfa Romeo, enjoyed an impressive result in which both Guanyu Zhou and the Finn made it past Q1.
Bottas continued his streak of making it to Q3, which now stretches to 102 successive appearances. Of course, that amazing run seemed a formality while racing for Mercedes for five seasons, but few expected him to out-qualify his replacement, George Russell at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.
A beaming Bottas said in the paddock: “I told the team this morning, ‘it’s time for 102 today,’ and they were all up for it, so this was nice!
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“[I was] surprised, yes. Obviously in testing, when the car worked, you could feel that it’s not bad. But now, after FP1 issues, we haven’t had any issues [since]. It’s been smooth, it’s nice to see. So yeah, a bit of a surprise.
“I was imagining a good step for the team would be somewhere in the middle, which would mean 10th. Seeing in reality, able to get a few more places, it’s better than what we expected.
“Absolutely [there’s potential to go further]. Obviously it’s not easy. That’s the hard part. Once you get into the top 10, best of the rest, it’s tricky. But why not? We’re in this place now and we need to make sure we keep our best coming.
“It makes me happy. It gives me a lot of hope. If I finished P18, I’d have a slightly bigger mountain to climb… there is still a mountain, but it’s not Mount Everest any more.”
During his time at Mercedes, Bottas was often commended for being a helpful teammate for seven-time world champion Hamilton. Having come after Hamilton’s spiky period spent racing alongside Nico Rosberg, which saw the pair clash on several occasions, Bottas was the perfect foil, and accepted his role as a No.2 driver.
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On the unexpected reunion on Sunday’s grid, Bottas said: “We’re starting side by side. It’s pretty cool! I just saw him and we were both smiling. It should be fun.
“If someone had told me in Bahrain we’re going to be starting side by side with Lewis, I’d take it! But this is the beginning. This is the starting point of our journey. We need to make sure we’re looking ahead. It’s exciting.”