Following the shock retirement of newly crowned F1 world champion Nico Rosberg, Bottas left Williams to join Mercedes for 2017. He remained alongside Hamilton until a 2022 move to Sauber (then branded Alfa Romeo). 

During their time together, Hamilton won 50 grands prix and four drivers’ titles while Bottas scored 10 victories. 

To keep competing against his team-mate, Bottas now believes that he had to be in a state of denial.

Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com, the Finn said: “You have to be in denial.  

“I was in denial for almost five years because every year, I wanted to get back to the season and then fight for the title and I had to believe in myself.” 

Bottas added that it was only during his final 2021 season at Mercedes - after which the team made room to promote junior driver George Russell from Williams - that he came to terms with losing out in the head-to-head. 

He continued: “It was only when I knew that I was leaving the team then that I noticed that I was a bit more fine with certain things.  

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at Saudi Arabia GP 2021

“I was allowing to accept some of those kind of things. So, for sure, in your career, you go through those kind of things… 

“With Lewis, only in the last year could I accept to myself that in equal machinery over a period of a full season, I really struggled to beat him and that he's probably better in certain areas. As a racing driver, to admit that to yourself, is hard.” 

Bottas supposed that Sergio Perez might now be “going through a similar experience” against dominant Red Bull stablemate and three-time world champion Max Verstappen. 

When Bottas was asked if he needed everyone at Mercedes to keep telling him that he could beat Hamilton, he replied: “No, it was quite open meetings.  

“Everything is based on facts and what they can see through the data on those things. You could see the average difference in qualifying or race pace. Nothing was avoided. 

“I have no regrets because it was a tricky situation for me because I was every year on a one-year contract.  

“I knew that if I wanted to fight for the title, I needed to be buried in this team. If I started to be an arsehole, I would lose my job pretty easily. They could always get someone else.”