Valtteri Bottas joked his transformation from also-ran to title contender is down to his fresh fuzz.
The Finn made a stunning start to the campaign a fortnight ago when he crushed teammate Lewis Hamilton in Australia.
Bottas failed to win a race in 2018 as his partner romped to a fifth world title, leading to doubts over his long-term Mercedes future – but he hit back in emphatic fashion Down Under.
That dominant triumph led to suggestions Bottas has forged a new-found confidence – and could mount a challenge for the title.
But the ice-cool racer preferred to focus on his new-look, having enjoyed what he feels was his best-ever performance on an F1 track.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, he joked: “It must be the beard!
“It really felt after the race that it was one of the best, or even my best race. Obviously the start for the race was the key to get in the lead.
“After that I didn’t make any mistakes and everything was under control. When you feel you’re performing at your best it’s a beautiful feeling.”
Bottas spent his off-season drinking vodka with friends at home in Finland, making his competitive rallying debut – and growing a beard.
And he admitted he is a different animal compared to previous seasons.
He added: “For sure if you look at the results it’s very early in the season.
“But I can say something in my mindset has changed tor the year.
“The preparation over the winter and the way I feel and think about things. It’s quite difficult to explain in details. But I feel different to years before.”
Hamilton, the five-time world champ, started on pole position in Melbourne but was blown away by his teammate in Melbourne.
But the Mercedes star, who finished over 20 seconds behind his pal, hasn’t noticed anything dramatically different about Bottas this season – apart from his facial hair.
When asked whether the Finn is more motivated and stronger than last year, Hamilton said: “I don’t think so. He’s motivated every year.
“I work with the guy. He’s the same guy he was last year, so no difference for me – except he has a beard!
“Time will tell I guess. I never thought he was a weak person anyway. I’ve always seen him as a strong character.
“(His win) doesn’t really change a single thing. Last year, he was very strong. It was a good second year for him.
“He was very unfortunate in many races, and it’s just a continuation on from that.”
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