LONDON (Reuters) - With three second places from five races, Valtteri Bottas believes he is hitting his targets for the Formula One season even if victory has so far escaped him.
The Finn, Mercedes team mate to four-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, would have been a winner in Azerbaijan last month but for suffering a puncture three laps from the end while leading.
In Spain on Sunday he followed race winner Hamilton in the team’s first one-two finish of the campaign, albeit 22 seconds adrift on very worn tyres after a massive 47 lap stint on a single set.
“I think this year I’ve been meeting more or less my targets with the performance for the beginning of the year,” Bottas, whose future beyond 2018 remains uncertain, told reporters after Sunday’s race.
“I think I’ve been able to really continue good performance since the very end of last year. There’s been no weekends that I’ve been really way off the pace, like there was a few last year. So I think I’ve learned from those.
“I just need to continue my development, there’s never things that you can’t learn more.”
Bottas won the 2017 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after an uneven first year at Mercedes following his move from Williams to replace retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg. Hamilton won nine races to Bottas’s three in 2017.
He started the year with a crash in qualifying in Australia, collecting a five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change that left him 15th on the grid. He finished eighth.
The Finn bounced back by outqualifying Hamilton in Bahrain and China, finishing second in both races, and was runner-up again on Sunday in a race the champion dominated.
Had he not drawn a blank in Baku, the 28-year-old would be a lot closer to Hamilton than the current 37 points.
He has had some criticism too, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo — among those most likely to replace him — saying after Bahrain that he would have tried to pass Ferrari’s race winner Sebastian Vettel rather than settling for second.
“I think there’s been quite mixed races and the end results haven’t been really I feel sometimes quite there, that I feel would have been possible with the pace we have,” declared Bottas.
“The gap to Lewis was huge (in Barcelona), but there were many things that affected that.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge