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MeMercedes’ Bottas inks birthday extension

The Associated Press

Valtteri Bottas

The Associated PressSPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Valtteri Bottas’ 30th birthday celebrations were made even better by Mercedes giving him a new contract for next year.

Mercedes gave the Finnish driver a one-year-extension, making 2020 his fourth season alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton. The relieved Bottas signed the paperwork last weekend, and then celebrated in style.

“I turned 30 yesterday [Wednesday]. I didn’t have a party yesterday, but the day before I had one. It was a good one,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.

“I knew by then everything was done, so it was actually nice to celebrate with close people.”

Since joining as a sudden replacement for Nico Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title, Bottas has had mixed fortunes.

He won three races in 2017, but none last year. He started this season strongly, winning two of the first four races and even leading the championship ahead of Hamilton.

But he has not won any of the past eight races, prompting speculation before the mid-season summer break that he could be replaced by Frenchman Esteban Ocon next year.

Bottas, who has secured 10 pole positions with Mercedes, is second in the world championships but is a distant 62 points behind Hamilton and only seven ahead of third-place Max Verstappen.

Still, Bottas believes he can win the world title next year.

“My overall target is to become Formula One world champion,” he said. “My goal for the second half [of this season] is to be as strong as I ever can. I know what I can do if I [get] there. How we get there is the tricky part of our sport.”

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said Bottas’ impressive performances in the early races this year, and his exemplary relationship with Hamilton, proved the deciding factors in him earning a new deal.

Still, the decision may come as a surprise to Ocon, tipped by some observers to get the Mercedes seat after Wolff publicly said last month that Bottas needed to do better.

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