MANAMA: Valtteri Bottas upstaged his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton by grabbing pole position on Saturday, but then said he is not dreaming of a maiden victory in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old Finn, who has replaced retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg as team-mate to the three-time world champion Briton, remained phlegmatic and practical after a close floodlit qualifying session.
“We need to enjoy it for a short period of time, to enjoy what you’ve done, but the main thing is tomorrow,” said Bottas.
“But there’s no point to start dreaming. We need to look at everything we can, work as a team and plan a good strategy for the race. We need to focus for the race and get the maximum out of it.
“But definitely it’s a good place to start and I think, as a team, we can be really strong tomorrow and hopefully get a one-two — the first one for the year.”
Bottas was congratulated warmly by Hamilton after wrecking the Englishman’s hopes of a hat-trick of season-opening poles and a seventh in succession.
Hamilton currently shares the leadership in the drivers’ title race with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, who qualified third behind the two Mercedes men.
After qualifying third in Australia and China, Bottas found the set-up and speed to turn the tables on the two championship leaders, his best lap allowing him to beat Hamilton by 0.023 seconds in the closing minutes of the top-ten shootout.
“It’s my first pole in my career and my fifth season now in Formula One, so it took a few races but we got it and hopefully it’s the first of many,” said Bottas, whose deadpan delivery and team ethic has brought a sense of stability at Mercedes after the torrid atmosphere created by the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry.
“We’ve made a really good job this weekend to focus on the evening conditions and get a lot of lap time out of this car in slightly cooler conditions. Hopefully that’s going to help us tomorrow.
“It’s not an easy track to get everything right. It’s quite technical and there’s a few difficult braking points.
“Turning in to the corners, it’s easy to have a lock-up, or miss the apex slightly, so it’s just getting the lap together and the car well balanced. My last lap was a good one, good enough for pole today so that’s good.”
Hamilton was magnanimous despite his personal disappointment and afterwards admitted that Bottas’ arrival in the team was keeping him focussed and motivated.
“Valtteri is keeping me on my toes and he really deserved that lap,” said Hamilton, who lost fractions of time in the second sector and then at the final corner on his last lap.
“A first pole position? It is just amazing. You dream that as a kid and, tomorrow, it could be his first Grand Prix win. He did a great job. And it is always nice to see good things happen to good people. He deserved it.”
Bottas added: “I feel much more comfortable with the car than I did in qualifying in Melbourne. The more time you spend with a car, and driving it, you get more at one with the car.
“It is good to keep making progress and getting better all the time. And it is great to get pole here under the floodlights and against Lewis.”