That is the view of Mercedes’ team chairman and F1 legend Niki Lauda.
Finn Bottas was signed by Mercedes on a one-year contract for 2017, after world champion Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to quit the sport.
“What I’ve seen so far is that Valtteri has closed to within two tenths of Lewis’ qualifying performance,” Lauda said at the Barcelona test.
“This is already very good,” he told the German broadcaster RTL. “He lacks the experience that Lewis has so he can develop still further on the long runs.
“He has to work on everything, and he will,” Lauda added. “But I am more than satisfied with his performance so far.”
Bottas agrees that he is “close” to Hamilton.
“We have worked on different programmes but sometimes I had the opportunity to compare the telemetry,” said the Finn.
“So far it looks like we are very close, but it’s only testing. However, based on what I saw, I have made progress.”
Meanwhile, after Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel called each other’s teams the “favourites” for 2017, Lauda has sided with his top Mercedes driver.
“We are two tenths from Ferrari,” said the Austrian.
Told that Vettel has called Mercedes the favourites, Lauda insisted: “No. It’s Ferrari. They’re doing a fantastic job.”
And at present, it seems clear that Red Bull is clearly the third force.
“We haven’t shown yet that we can be on Ferrari’s pace,” admitted Daniel Ricciardo. “It looks like they’re close to Mercedes’ pace, or on it already.”
But Bottas thinks it’s too early to make clear statements about the pecking order.
“Ferrari looks very strong,” he said, “and Red Bull may surprise — as well as other teams. It will be a close fight.
“At the moment, we cannot consider ourselves favourites.”