Valtteri Bottas is regarded as one of Formula 1’s rising stars. And rightly so; in 2014, in just his second season in the sport, the Finn procured six podiums and finished fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, outperforming his more experienced teammate Felipe Massa.
The 2015 campaign, however, has not quite got off to the start the obvious potential of the Mercedes-powered FW37 would suggest: Bottas failed to take the beginning of the Australian Grand Prix after injuring his back in qualifying, and he and teammate Massa discovered their race pace lacking in the searing heat of Malaysia.
I talked exclusively to the Finn about his rise to Formula 1 and his expectations for the year ahead.
EH: You first got behind the wheel of a kart at the tender age of five, but your curiosity started a year earlier when you, along with your Dad, discovered a kart race through the summer. Would you tell me about that day and then your first experience in a kart the next year?
VB: Well, that day, I was actually going to Lahti (a town in Finland) with my dad and we saw a sign about the go-kart Finnish championship race. We went there just to check it out, none of us was comfortable with the game. When I saw it the first time I thought it was really cool and wanted to get in to try one! My fist time really trying a go-kart was about a year afterwards, I was about 5-6 years old, and I really crashed in the first corner of the first lap, as I didn’t use the brakes, and went off into the barrier. Nobody actually explained to me how it worked and they just said”Off you go”! That day, I learned from my mistake.
That is an enormous accomplishment, you should have been quite pleased with your efforts that year. How difficult was it competing in two championships?
VB: It was a significant year and difficult also, as [I had] lots of races involving two different championships. [But I wanted ] to get the help to move up to Formula 3. But overall it was great to get as much mileage as possible, the season went really well and I won both championships. That is also how I met and started working with my direction (Mika Häkkinen, Didier Coton and Toto Wolff) so it was important to show them good results!
EH: You have had a very impressive season last year with six podiums, including your first Formula 1 podium in the Austrian Grand Prix on an unfamiliar track. Can you put into words how that felt and what thoughts were going through your head on the last lap, knowing you’re mere seconds away from claiming your first podium?
VB: Austria was a very special moment, we’d been pursuing the podium for a long time and the final lap, even though you shouldn’t ever make any plans before crossing the finish line, I started thinking (as there was sufficient margin in the front and back) how cool it is to cross the line and make the podium and fulfill my group when I return, as the whole team was working really hard for good outcomes. The podium was very special, to see everyone there, it was a really wonderful day that I will remember forever.
EH: Last year Formula 1 veteran Felipe Massa joined the Williams team substituting Maldonado. What did you learn from his expertise and knowledge of the game, and how did it feel beating your more accomplished teammate in only your second year?
VB: My experience as a teammate of Felipe has been very great; obviously he is very experienced, he has been in various situations, automobile set-ups, different states, tracks. It has been good to work with him even though, as a racer, my goal is to be faster than my teammate (whoever that is) and get more points.
EH: For quite a long time that the Williams team seemed to be in racing’No Man’s Land’, but 2014 saw a dramatic shift in fortunes for the team. What do you think are the major contributing factors to this remarkable turnaround for the team?
VB: I think the arrival of [Chief Technical Officer] Pat Symonds made a very big difference since joining the group mid-2013. He’s been reallocating people in the mill, bringing new people to the team. Now we have the right people to the perfect positions and that definitely brought back the results. Another major contributing factor is the switch to Mercedes-Benz power units.
EH: For a country with a relatively small population, Finland has delivered three Formula 1 World Champions (and possibly soon a fourth). What is it about your house country that sees it produce so many world class drivers in racing and rallying?
VB: First of all Finland is a motorsport nation, it is part of our culture – we simply love F1 and rallying and it’s true there are a few very good drivers from our nation. Also, the degree of go-karting (at a young age) is very high so this could explain it also. The mentality of Finns is also great for the game, we are able to keep focused and do not worry about things too much which is quite significant in F1 in my view.
EH: What are your first memories of following Formula 1 as a kid and which driver/s did you most enjoy watching race?
VB: The very first car I remember is that the blue and yellow Williams car – my favorite in the beginning. 1 race that stands out as a race is Mika Häkkinen’s first triumph in 1997 in Jerez! I recall this race really clearly.
EH: Following your most prosperous Formula 1 year to date in 2014, what are your expectations for 2015?
VB: In 2015 the contest will be much closer between the teams.