Valtteri Bottas believes Mercedes is "not miles clear" of the Formula 1 field despite teammate Lewis Hamilton's dominant display for much of the Australian Grand Prix race weekend, with the Finn anticipating a close championship battle.

While Bottas could only finish eighth in Australia after a qualifying crash resigned him to 15th place on the grid, Hamilton took pole position by six-tenths of a second and looked bound for victory in the race, only to come unstuck due to a badly-timed Virtual Safety Car period.

Paddock consensus was that Mercedes remains the team to beat in F1 this year, with Australia race winner Sebastian Vettel fearing Ferrari has taken a backward step compared to its main rival.

However, Bottas is anticipating a close fight against Ferrari throughout the season, rejecting the suggestion Mercedes has surged clear of the pack.

"It seems very close. Ferrari obviously won today, they were first and third, but they also won here last year," Bottas said.

"I think it’s going to be a close season. We’re not miles ahead. I think Lewis really got everything right in Q3, maybe the other teams' drivers didn’t get everything perfect.

"So I think it’s going to be a big battle and it’s going to be a tough season."

Bottas struggled to fight his way through the field in Australia, putting it down to a mixture of the difficulty of overtaking at the Albert Park circuit and the stronger midfield in 2018.

"Definitely the pace of all the teams is much closer," Bottas said. "I also think that this year, the cars have more downforce, and with the way the aerodynamics work in the cars, it’s even more difficult to follow than last year, so the losses are bigger.

"It was not a good weekend, but what can you do? I think the mistake I made in qualifying kind of ruined my weekend. We tried to maximise and this was the result.

"But I’m not panicking. This was just one race out of 21, so we have a long year ahead."

 

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