Lewis Hamilton is not surprised by Mercedes Formula 1 teammate Valtteri Bottas’ increased level of performance in 2019 and believes one of his old engineers has benefited the Finn.

Hamilton’s ex-performance engineer, Riccardo Musconi, has become Bottas’ new race engineer for this season following the departure of Tony Ross, who has switched over to Mercedes’ Formula E programme.

In his new partnership with Musconi, Bottas has already notched up two pole positions and two victories from the opening four rounds of the campaign, moving him into a one-point championship lead over Hamilton after bouncing back from his winless 2018 season.

“Every year he [Bottas] starts out strong,” Hamilton said. “He has done again and I think his goal will be to extend that throughout the year. So it’s not been a surprise.

“This year he has my No.2 engineer, so my second engineer for the last two years has been promoted to head engineer for him and so that will be a nice helping hand and he is learning a lot from that.

“That’s to be expected the little bit of a step he’s taken. I’ve got a new [performance] engineer and we are working really well together but it takes time to build relationships with people and to continue to grow.

“So when you take one away, whatever element you take away, initially it’s not as strong as something you have built over six years. We are building back to being stronger and trumping that and it’s only been four races, so watch this space.”

Asked if he has noticed a difference in Bottas this year, Hamilton replied: “Apart from the beard… You could say he looks a little bit more focused than he was in previous years.

“The things he is doing on track, which my engineer has obviously encouraged him to do, the things I was doing with settings he is now doing and he has definitely moved in the right direction there.

“Otherwise he is still the strong Finn that he has been before,” he added. “Last year he would have won in Baku if he didn’t have the failure and he had a couple of really unfortunate scenarios and he would have won at least two races last year.

“He would have won Russia - which he really did genuinely win - and without the issue in Baku he would have won as well.

“Winning the title is not all about winning a couple of races, it is about consistency through the whole season. I’m sure he is going to be strong and competitive all year long and that will be the challenge.”

Bottas acknowledged the changes have enabled him to “open new directions” and a different approach to car set-up, which he believes has helped him turnaround his fortunes.

“I have a completely new engineering team, a new race engineer and also a new performance engineer,” Bottas added.

“For sure when you have new people around that makes you think at things differently, it opens new routes on your way of thinking about the set-up, opens new directions and it has started really well.

“We’ve been learning a lot, as an engineering team all the time, and it’s getting better and better, so, so far, so good.”

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