Valtteri Bottas feels Mercedes can still fight for pole position in Monaco despite bracing for “the most challenging qualifying we’ll face so far this year”.

The Finnish driver, who is running a Mika Hakkinen tribute helmet design this weekend, ended the second free practice session down in sixth place over eight-tenths of a second off of pace-setter Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo but isn’t expecting the gap to last come qualifying.

Bottas says Mercedes made vital set-up tweaks between the two practice sessions on Thursday in Monaco in qualifying runs and is confident he can still fight for pole position.

“We knew that Red Bull and Ferrari were going to be quick here and so they were, especially in FP1, when the car didn't feel that great and we struggled a bit on the Hypersoft tyres,” Bottas said. “But in second practice we managed to get it to work a bit better. The gaps between the three teams are not too big though, which is good.

“We know that the car has speed, so if we can find a good set-up and get some good laps together in for qualifying, we should be able to fight for the pole. But I think it will be the most challenging qualifying session we'll face so far this year.”

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Turning attention towards the race, Bottas is wary of the Hypersofts’s durability over long stints ahead of its F1 Grand Prix debut and doesn’t think it will out-perform its predicted stint lengths from Pirelli before dropping performance compared to the other tyre specifications seen in 2018.

“The Hypersofts felt a lot better in FP2 and they were definitively a good gain for one or two laps,” he said. “In the longer runs we could only do something like seven laps before they started to go, so I doubt that we are going to see very long stints with the Hypersofts.

“We need to analyse more but we definitively cannot use the Hypersofts in two stints, so it’s going to be an interesting race because of that.”

Bottas is still searching for his first win of 2018 having secured three second places from the past four rounds while he was cruelly denied victory while leading in Baku due to a puncture after hitting debris.



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