Lewis Hamilton has been warned not to “underestimate” Valtteri Bottas in his scrap for a record-equalling seventh Formula One world championship, according to Martin Brundle.
The Mercedes star cruised to his sixth title in 2019, his fifth with Mercedes, with Bottas finishing second in the championship standings – some 87 points adrift.
Hamilton was backed as the clear favourite to clinch the 2020 crown before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the season back in March, forcing F1 bosses into a reduced calendar of 15-18 races this season.
The revised schedule currently has eight confirmed races in Europe, starting at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on July 5, with the campaign set to end in the Middle East in December.
There is a feeling that the uncertainty and unprecedented changes to the season could disrupt Mercedes’ dominance, with young stars such as Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc both capable of challenging for the title for Red Bull and Ferrari respectively.
But Brundle, who will be working for Sky Sports F1 as a co-commentator, believes Bottas has a new appetite for winning after making positive steps in his personal life – and says the Finn could capitalise if Hamilton makes any mistakes.
“I wouldn’t underestimate Valtteri Bottas, just observing his social media through the months, it seems he is in a very good place,” he added.
“Of course, he’s got to drive every year for his contract and I had that at McLaren, and it’s an awful position to be in because every race matters and you end up just trying to drive for yourself whilst being a team player as well.
“Valtteri has a new partner in his life, he’s been through some turmoil last year when he got a divorce. I just think Bottas, personally, he’s in an extremely good place.
“I don’t think it will be easy for Lewis and a couple of scruffy races will make a big difference. If you’re looking for a plug-and-play, a car that will adapt, you’re going to look at Lewis and Mercedes-Benz.”
Brundle believes the congested nature of the revised calendar could play into the hands of Mercedes’ rivals.
“It’s going to be very compressed, like a reset button,” he added. “I’m expecting a dozen races, somewhere between 12 and 15. It’s going to be pretty relentless when we get going.
“We start the season not knowing how many races and therefore how many world championship points there are, which is highly unusual. Will the drivers be pushing like crazy or will they have to leave a margin because a non-finish would be more costly? Who knows. There could be a second wave of the coronavirus and we may not get much beyond eight or nine [races].
“We’ve got this completely new and unknown scenario and I think that plays into the hands of drivers who have got a plug-and-play car on the racetrack in terms of speed, reliability and resources. Races are going to be coming thick and fast, we’ve got eight in 10 weeks, and that means if there’s any crash damage, teams could run out of parts.
“It all plays into the hands of the bigger teams and Mercedes looked really good in the winter testing. I think Red Bull didn’t show their full potential, they will be very strong. You would never underestimate the might of Ferrari either.”