Valtteri Bottas says he is excited and motivated by Mercedes being what he has described as the “hunters” in the 2021 Formula 1 title fight.

Lewis Hamilton narrowly beat Max Verstappen to victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix but Red Bull appeared to hold a genuine edge over its chief rival at the first round, prompting suggestions of a season-long title battle between the two teams.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, Bottas conceded that Mercedes is currently lagging behind Red Bull but said he is relishing the challenge.

“Starting the year, we could see already in testing we were on the back foot against Red Bull and the first race confirmed that we are behind,” he said.

“I don’t feel exactly like it’s pressure, I feel excitement and motivation that we are now the hunters, not the other way around that are to be hunted.

“We try to take all the positives we can from that and I can definitely see the motivation in each team member’s eyes to try and get them and try and do as well as we can, together, to achieve the goal we have for this year.”

Despite the restrictions on development time this year, Bottas is convinced Mercedes can still catch Red Bull.

“I still believe we can catch them, you know, I believe, from the feeling that I have in the car, that there's more to unlock from it,” he explained.

“If we can get the balance right, if we can get the car a bit more drivable through corner balance to be better. I think with really understanding and fine tuning the setup already there's still more to come.

“23 races is a long, long time to learn about the package and to develop it, even with the restrictions and it just means we need to be more efficient than the other teams.

“We know that Red Bull, they're normally good on in-season development, but we need to try and outpace them one way or another. I fully, fully believe in it, seeing the motivation the team has.”

The Finn revealed he has spent time in the Mercedes simulator at Brackley since the opening race in Bahrain in a bid to try and unlock more potential from the W12 by experimenting with different set-ups.

“I went between the races to Brackley, to the simulator, tried to work on the set-up, trying to find answers, trying to achieve as much as I can really and unlock the performance,” he added.

“I lost count of how many set-up items we tried in the simulator. At least coming here, I think we have good toolbox where to choose from.

“But for sure it’s not like a couple of years ago where you could go all the time and a few days in a row, et cetera. Within the restrictions, within the situation, we’re trying to make the most out of it.

“It’s the same for the team, we are really restricted on the development time so efficiency and planning is really the key.”