Valtteri Bottas does not believe that going "backwards" is the reason behind his increasingly close fight with Formula 1 teammate Zhou Guanyu.
Bottas and Zhou are now into their second season together at Alfa Romeo, with Zhou arriving as a rookie in 2022 while Bottas joined the squad after five years at Mercedes.
While Bottas outscored the Chinese driver by 43 points in that campaign, Zhou looks to be posing more of a challenge so far in 2023.
When asked by RacingNews365.com if the battle is tighter with Zhou this year, Bottas answered: "Yeah, definitely."
But, when quizzed further on the reasons behind this, the Finn suggested that it was owing to Zhou's progress rather than his own struggles.
Viewed by others:
Bottas on Zhou battle
"I don't feel like I've gone backwards," Bottas explained.
"I feel like he's improved. Obviously, last year was his rookie season and when the car was good last year, that's when he had his first races.
"I was scoring bigger points, so he's definitely made a better step forward, no doubt. So we're definitely more evenly matched."
It has been a challenging start to the season for Alfa Romeo, with the team appearing to slip backwards in the competitive midfield battle.
Bottas does not feel that there has been a particular pattern behind their struggles and believes that the factors have varied at each race weekend.
"[There has been] no clear pattern," the 10-time race winner said.
"For sure, pure performance is not quite there. But I don't know, it's hard to say.
"I hope it's a bit track dependent, but it is so close."
Balve Bains is joined by RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken and Asia Correspondent Michael Butterworth to ask if Mattia Binotto could really join Alpine, what Pirelli's new tyres are about and the latest on the Red Bull-Ford partnership!