Valtteri Bottas has described his recent struggles extracting the optimum performance from his Mercedes as ‘the most difficult time of my career’ and says it is impacting his mental fortitude.

The Finnish driver endured a difficult Malaysia Grand Prix finishing fifth place having been passed by Sebastian Vettel at half-distance despite the Ferrari driver starting from last place in Sepang.

At the chequered flag Bottas was 56 seconds off of race winner Max Verstappen for Red Bull but perhaps more worryingly the Mercedes driver ended the 56-lap race 44 seconds behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton in second place.

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Bottas confirmed he elected for an identical set-up as his team-mate for the race, despite using the updated aerodynamic package whereas Hamilton stuck with an older specification, but it did little to improve his performance. The Finnish driver explained he was struggling for front-end grip while he was sliding through the fast corners at the Sepang International Circuit which meant he overheated his tyres and lost further performance.

With his recent results taking a minor dip, the former Williams driver accepts it is the toughest challenge he’s faced in his F1 career as he’s unable to find solutions to his problems.

“It’s difficult and being honest maybe it’s the most difficult time of my career so far, in terms of how does it feel every time I go in the car,” Bottas said. “I just want to perform, I want to be at a good level and I haven’t been doing that for some time, for many varied reasons.

“There are many, many questions marks for me and for the team, so I definitively have to turn it around very quickly. If I keep doing races like this, it won’t be good for anyone.

“The team needs the points, I need the points, I want the points, I want to do much better than this. I want to turn it around quickly and I’m willing to do everything, whatever it’s needed.

“I need to get that feeling of enjoying the driving and letting yourself be a bit looser. But it comes from understanding all those fine details I’ve been struggling with sometimes but also removing all the other factors, like me and Lewis running different packages this weekend.”

Bottas has also admitted his recent troubles have hit his confident and mindset in the Mercedes as he can’t feel he can properly attack when racing.

“This sport it is sensitive for the mental state of yourself as a driver,” he said. “It sounds funny but it’s a very, very sensitive sport mentally and you need to be absolutely on it if you want to be the quickest.”

Bottas is now 59 points behind Hamilton in the F1 world drivers’ championship, and 25 points off Vettel for second place, with five rounds remaining this year.

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Quote "...also removing all the other factors, like me and Lewis running different packages this weekend.”

The read between the lines here is, Bottas is peeved at having to be the test mule for future upgrades, but at least Merc had the decency to wait until contract renewal to do this.

Face it, what sense is there even in running identical setup if the car is different?