Valtteri Bottas has no intention of playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton and thinks the time is right for him to pip his Mercedes teammate to the title. Bottas joined Hamilton at Mercedes at the start of 2017 to replace Nico Rosberg, following the world champion's shock retirement days after beating Hamilton to the title.
The amiable Finnish driver was drafted in from Williams at short-notice. He was considered the ideal teammate for Hamilton, whose relationship with Rosberg was often sour during their four-year partnership and probably beyond repair by the end of it.
But although Bottas at times appeared consigned to a No. 2 role last season, as Hamilton went on to win his fourth title, he insists there is no seniority at Mercedes.
"People can always think what they think. Only what I care about is my own performance," Bottas told The Associated Press in an interview. "I have high goals in Formula One, I know that I can do good things, I know that I can fight for the title, I can win races and we happen to work really well with Lewis.
"If someone thinks I'm only his helper that's wrong because that's not the case," he added. "I'm here because I want to win and we're starting the season with Lewis on equal terms, so it's up to me and Lewis who will come out on top."
Bottas finished third last season, 12 points behind Sebastian Vettel and 58 points behind Hamilton.
After winning three races last year — the first ones since he started in 2013 — Bottas is keen to challenge Hamilton all the way.
"I believe. I believe in myself," Bottas said. "I always set very high targets and I was able to win a few races last year so I know I can do it. I just need to be more consistent and we'll see."
He appeared relaxed and determined as he responded to questions on the balcony of team sponsor Petronas' new $60 million research and technology center in Turin. He is under pressure to perform, however, since he only has a one-year contract with Mercedes.
There are as yet no assurances he will keep his set for 2019, when other leading drivers are likely to be on the market.
"I want to win more races than last year. I want to fight for the title. I feel it's my opportunity this year," Bottas said. "I learnt so much with this team last season so if I can really learn from all the mistakes, especially from all the difficult races, I believe I can perform overall a lot better."
Bottas had a frantic start to life at Mercedes, joining the team little over two months before the start of last season.
The 28-year-old has had a better preparation this year, and a relaxed offseason split between Finland and South Africa.
He Bottas believes that, coupled with a year's experience under his belt, will stand him in good stead to mount a serious challenge.
"Everything is all set for the new year," Bottas said. "Main thing I learnt last year is that I learnt that I had no clue how much I still had to learn. There were so many different things."
Driving alongside Hamilton helped to speed up the process.
"I also learnt some things from Lewis," he said. "It's fine details and that's what Formula One is about when you're speaking about the hundredths/thousandths of a second."