'We're the hunters', says Valtteri Bottas, 'but we can catch Red Bull'

Valtteri Bottas says that he feels that there's more to come from this year's Mercedes, which will enable the team to match the performance of Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton follows Max Verstappen at the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Valtteri Bottas says that Mercedes can match the performance of this year’s Red Bull by unlocking more pace from its car.

The Finn believes that fine-tuning his W12’s setup, combined with upgrades, will enable Mercedes to catch its rivals and force a close championship battle.

Despite Lewis Hamilton’s win at the Bahrain season-opener, Mercedes admits that it’s currently short of Red Bull’s pace and is scrambling to catch up.

Bottas said that the snappy rear end he had previously complained of is still a problem, with the balance of the car requiring more work.

“We are now the hunters, not the ones to be hunted,” Bottas said ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. “I can definitely see the motivation in each team member’s eyes, to try and work as well as we can together to again achieve the goal, we have for this year.

“I still believe we can catch them. I believe, from the feeling that I’m having in the car, that there’s more to unlock from it.

“It’s still a fast car with, with huge potential but there’s still plenty of work to do.

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“If we can get the balance right if we can get the car a bit more drivable, the true corner balance to be better…I think we’re really understanding and fine-tuning the setup already. There’s still more to come.”

However, he cannot see the team overtaking Red Bull on pace and delivering crushing victories as it did in 2020.

“We’ve seen quite a big swings in performance, track to track,” he said. “You never know but I can’t see anyone really dominating this year.”

Bottas said that he returned to the Brackley factory between the Bahrain and Imola races to test new approaches in the simulator and “lost count” of the different setup items that he tested.

This year’s development race is much tougher than usual, as teams look to focus work on next year’s car, built to new regulations, while facing wind tunnel and CFD restrictions – which are tightest for Mercedes as the reigning constructors’ champion.

Covid travel restrictions will also limit the ability for drivers to travel in and out of the country.

“Within the restrictions, within the situation we’re trying to make most out of it,” said Bottas. “And it’s same for the team. They are really restricted on the development time for efficiency and planning is really the key.

“I’m really keen to see what this year is going to bring to us and how it’s going to end up, it’s really a really exciting year ahead.”