LEWIS HAMILTON has leapt to the defence of under-fire team-mate Valtteri Bottas saying ‘people need to give him a break’.
The Finn is facing fresh questions about his future after finishing third twice and posting one DNF in this season’s opening three races.
And while the 31-year old admits he does not know whether he will still be at Mercedes next season, he has dismissed incorrect speculation that he will be replaced midseason by George Russell as ‘bulls****’.
Hamilton said: “From what I have experienced and the relationship I have with Valtteri, I think he has been an amazing team-mate, as I have always said, if I am really honest.
“I think we have the best line-up currently in terms of deliverables, in terms of the equilibrium in our team and the general knowledge in terms of moving our car forward.
“I am not going to be here forever, Valtteri won’t be here forever but right now, we have delivered time and time again over the years and we continue to.
“Valtteri just qualified on pole in the last race, it is only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and let him focus on what he is doing.”
Ahead of this weekend’s Spanish GP in Barcelona, Bottas was asked directly if he knew his place was under threat.
He said: “I know that I’m not going to be replaced in the middle of the season.
“As a team, we don’t do that. I have a contract for this year and I think there’s only one team that does that kind of thing in F1 and we’re not that (team).
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“So no pressure from my side and I know how things are. There’s always bulls*** around, that’s part of the sport.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that after Bottas finished third in Portugal that the team had let their driver down due a sensor failure on his car’s exhaust.
However, when asked whether he expected to be at Mercedes next year, Bottas replied: “I don’t know. It’s early days. I haven’t thought about it really.
“At the moment I don’t care. I’m just focusing on this year.”
Meanwhile, despite opening up an eight point lead in the championship over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Hamilton says they still have their work cut out in Barcelona.
He added: “This year is more exciting and something I have been wanting every year.
“In the past, there were moments where we were fighting Ferrari and had that close pace but there were not too many opportunities to have the fight like we did in the last few races, so I hope we can have some more.
“We are max, flat-out trying to get the best out of the car. It is not perfect, there are areas that need to be improved.
“These rules changes have hit our team hard. We still have a good package, but we have got to squeeze more out of it and improve things.
“It means we started slightly behind and if Red Bull do a perfect job, they should be ahead.
“So that is why this weekend is a good benchmark for us and at the end we will get a good gauge of where we are.”