Valtteri Bottas believes Sebastian Vettel still poses the biggest threat to Mercedes in the fight for this year’s Formula 1 world championship despite the Ferrari driver’s difficult start to the season.

Bottas currently occupies second place in the drivers’ standings after recording one win and two second-place finishes in the opening three races of the season. He sits six points back from Mercedes teammate and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Despite a strong showing in winter testing, Ferrari has struggled to compete with Mercedes through the early part of the season.

Four-time world champion Vettel has only recorded one podium finish in the opening three races, leaving him 31 points back from Hamilton in the standings.

However, Bottas still believes that Vettel poses the greatest threat to the Mercedes drivers in the fight for the championship this year, citing the German’s added experience over teammate Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as a key factor.

“It’s tough to say at this point of the year. They all have potential to fight for the title,” Bottas said when asked which of the three drivers he saw as the biggest rival to Mercedes.

“Sebastian is quite experienced. They are now second in the constructors’ championship, Charles is very young and keen to beat Sebastian.

“But maybe because of Sebastian’s experience. If I had to choose one name, it would be him.”

Ferrari’s form has fluctuated through the opening three races of the season. While the team could not compete with Mercedes in either Australia or China, reliability issues cost Leclerc a likely win in Bahrain.

"The team remains strong in terms of straight-line speed, leaving Bottas wary of the threat the team still poses ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“I think in Melbourne, Ferrari underperformed for whatever reason. They made a big step in terms of straight-line performance for Bahrain and that’s why they were quicker than us there,” Bottas said.

“In China we made some steps forward, not really in terms of straight-line speed, but in corner performance, as we had new bits in the car and also made the tyres work better.

“This is a completely different track, so it’s difficult to predict it, but we know there is a long straight here where Ferrari's going to be strong.

“Like we saw in the last race, we were very strong in the slow-speed corners, and that's good to see.”

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