If you are the team-mate to one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport, then it’s fair to say you might have the toughest job in motor racing.
The quietly spoken Finnish driver, Valtteri Bottas, has raced alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes since 2017. In that time Hamilton has won the Drivers’ World Championship four times and stood on the top step of the podium on 45 occasions (and counting…) In contrast, Bottas has scored just nine Grand Prix victories in the same period. But the win tally belies the speed and talent of the 31-year-old.
Bottas grew up an hour’s north of the Finnish capital Helsinki, surrounded by a rural idyll of lakes and forests. It’s where he continues to have a holiday home today, to take sanctuary from the hectic world of racing. When the youngster first started go-karting close to his hometown of Nastola, it was instantly clear he had the talent to become a future star.
As he progressed through the junior categories of motor sport, he started to follow a well-trodden path of great racers who have hailed from Finland. Formula 1 champions Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen have all excelled for a country, which with only five million inhabitants, regularly punches above its weight in motor racing circles.
Whether it’s the car control learnt on snowy roads, or the ice-cool demeanour under pressure, like his compatriots before him, Bottas is naturally quick behind the wheel and brings to his driving a calm and methodical approach. His no-nonsense behaviour has helped instil a peaceful atmosphere at Mercedes, which prior to his arrival was rather turbulent thanks to the in-fighting between Hamilton and his former team-mate Nico Rosberg. When Rosberg secured the title in 2016, he suddenly quit Formula 1 and that allowed Bottas to step into Mercedes as his replacement.
Bottas first made his debut for Williams in 2013 and enjoyed a successful campaign the following year when he finished fourth in the points standings. In successive years he finished one place lower down the order, but that was explained by a general downturn in form for the Williams team.
After getting the call up with Mercedes, Bottas took his first victory in only his fourth race at his new team. He took another two wins in 2017 to finish third overall.
Unfortunately, that momentum didn’t carry into 2018, where he failed to reach the top step of the podium. While lesser drivers would have cracked under the pressure to perform, Bottas was unfazed and came back to take four victories in 2019.
With a one-year extension on his Mercedes contract until the end of 2021, the question is whether he can mount a successful challenge to Hamilton’s crown? It’s a tough ask…