In conversation with Valtteri Bottas

Bottas relishing new role at Alfa Romeo

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Valtteri Bottas made an appearance at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival to meet fans and drive a selection of cars. 

The Adelaide Motorsport Festival prides itself on displaying historic, rare, and significant racing vehicles. It is held at the Adelaide Parklands Circuit which hosted eleven Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix events between 1985 and 1995. The festival made its comeback in 2023 after a five-year break, with Valtteri as the star of the show, driving an Ignis Alfa Romeo GTV Group A car in the Heritage Touring Cars category (previously driven by Alan Jones, an Australian icon) and the 2016 Bathurst 1000-winning Holden VF Commodore V8 Supercar of Will Davison and Jonathon Webb.

Valtteri has been spending a large amount of time in South Australia thanks to his partner, Stirling-born cyclist Tiffany Cromwell.  He has also been immersing himself in the country’s culture, illustrated by his recent mullet hairdo. His popularity in Australia has been rapidly growing, and he was eager to meet and speak with fans throughout the Adelaide Motorsport Festival weekend. 

While at the two-day festival, the ten-time race winner joined Mark Gallagher on stage in the Grand Marquee to a full capacity crowd and discussed his road to success, his time with Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Mercedes, and his future aspirations and endeavours.

Hailing from Nastola, Finland, Valtteri entered his first kart race at the age of six. In conversation with Mark, he reflected on his childhood inspiration. “When you choose what you want to be in the future, if you have a hero, it is a big motivation. For me, Mika [Häkkinen] was that hero. I saw him winning his first race in ‘97 and finally his titles in ‘98 and ’99. To me, that was something so huge and so motivating.”

Valtteri won two Formula Renault championships after a successful move into car racing at the age of 17 before moving into Formula 3 and GP3. During a victorious campaign to win the inaugural GP3 series in 2011, he tested for the Williams Formula 1 team.

“Frank [Williams] was such a legend,” said Valtteri. “He was actually the man who gave me the opportunity to get into Formula 1. He was the guy who trusted my skills and talent and work ethic. He saw the potential in me, so without Frank, I wouldn't be here now talking to you guys.

“The first season of mine, 2013, was pretty tough. I only scored points once, but then 2014 was actually a great year. I had six podiums in that year. I really enjoyed those times.” 

Valtteri’s hard work allowed him to claim 4th place in the 2014 Drivers’ World Championship and assist Williams in placing 3rd in the Constructors’, a result which he and teammate Felipe Massa repeated the following year.

Despite Williams’ performances slipping in 2016, Valtteri performed well and attracted attention from Mercedes after world champion Nico Rosberg announced his retirement. 

“It was that very moment when I heard about [Nico’s retirement], I called Toto, like every other driver did,” Valtteri recalled. “I made it really clear that I’m up for it and this is my opportunity, but Toto didn't say much because everyone was calling him and sending messages. He came back to me maybe a week after that saying there could be a chance, but let's wait and see. Then it was a waiting game. I was waiting for a few weeks, and then he called me and said I got the drive, and I couldn't believe it. I knew it was going to be the best opportunity in my career so far to fight for the title and to win races.

“[Mercedes was a] huge change for me. You’re jumping into a big organisation that is on top of their game. With that comes a lot of pressure. Everyone is expecting you to perform at 110% every single day, in and out of the paddock, so it was not easy. I was super hungry to win. I remember that winter preparing for the first season knowing that there’s a possibility to win. I couldn't wait for the season to start. I was definitely way too harsh on myself. I was expecting myself to win everything immediately, but when that didn’t quite happen with Lewis, I was really putting lots of pressure on myself, which for sure didn't help at certain times. If I could go back in time, I would be a bit easier on myself.”

With Lewis Hamilton as his teammate, who has been such a dominant driver throughout this era of Formula 1, Valtteri faced a huge amount of pressure to perform well in one of the toughest jobs in motorsport. 

“Going against Lewis was never easy. He's a big talent, and not many people know actually how much he works behind the scenes. Talent combined with lots of work is the result. His baseline performance level and consistencies are really hard to beat. On my good day, I knew that I could beat him. I could be faster in qualifying, or I could beat him in the race, but that was [only] my good day. Lewis’ basic level is something I haven't seen before. And overall, over the whole season, I couldn't quite match it, but I have to say the five years that I had [at Mercedes] felt like I aged ten years. Every single year, going into the season, I was always trying to find something more about myself, trying to find new ways to beat him. It was really, really consuming but I tried. There's no regrets. I've tried everything I could, and maybe my time is in the future.”

Four races into his first season with Mercedes, Valtteri achieved his first of ten career wins. “Formula 1, and winning Formula 1, has been my goal since I was a five-year-old kid. When you finally get it and you're on the podium, everything starts to sink in. Even as a Finn, I was a bit emotional,” Valtteri joked. “For me, it was a huge moment. Probably one of the biggest moments of my life so far. So, it was just crazy to actually realise it and feel so much happiness because obviously there’s been lots and lots of work since I was a young kid to get there, so really really proud of those moments.” 

While most Formula 1 drivers might only win one or two races in their career, Valtteri won ten with Mercedes, cementing his name alongside drivers such as James Hunt and Gerhard Berger as ten-time race winners.

Following five successful seasons with Mercedes, in which Valtteri supported the team in achieving five consecutive Constructors’ Championships, it was announced Valtteri had signed a multiyear contract with Alfa Romeo for 2022 and beyond. This marked a significant change, going from the Mercedes-Benz team with 1700 employees across Brackley and Brixworth, to the much smaller organisation of Alfa Romeo in Hinwil. 

“It’s definitely a big change, no doubt. I would say the biggest difference for me was the amount of people. It almost felt like double the resources at Mercedes,” said Valtteri. “It was a change, but I had enough time to prepare for it – mentally as well – knowing that most likely for every race I’m not going to be fighting for the win which was the case with Mercedes. When I went to race [with Mercedes], I knew there was a chance of winning, but now unfortunately, it’s a bit of a long shot.

“It’s all about resetting the goals, accepting that there’s always going to be opportunities. You get that joy and satisfaction from different things, like when you see progress, when you work hard as a team together, and you reach certain goals step by step. That’s the thing now. Of course, I miss winning, and that’s still my target in the future. I still have many years for sure in Formula 1, and it would be great to win with this team in the future.

“There’s still a big, big joy in this sport for me, even though at the moment I'm not winning. But we have a target for the future. For me, it’s all about those small goals on the way, and I'm fine with it. I'm happy with the situation because, with this team, the spirit is so good. I'm much more involved in the car development than I've ever been before in my career, and much more information is going through me as well about the new car and everything. For the first time as well, I have a contract that I can trust is actually for a few years ahead, not just a few months ahead, so that gives good stability for me and the peace to really focus on the job.”

In December 2022, it was announced Andreas Seidl would be moving from his role of team principal at McLaren to Alfa Romeo. “[Andreas] has been great. He’s been observing a lot, taking lots of information, and relearning first how the team operates and how the team works. Now he’s starting to have his effect on certain things and reconstructing some areas of the factory. I didn’t know him that well before, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’ve been very impressed, and even though it was a quick change in terms of the team organisation, everything has been pretty smooth and working well.

“It seems like we have a chance to fight for a top five place in the Constructors’ Championship,” said Valtteri, following a positive P8 finish in Bahrain and a concerning P18 in Saudi Arabia. “It is a long, long year ahead, but based on what we’ve seen in Bahrain, we could definitely fight for points each race.

“It’s so hard to predict because the whole midfield is super tight. Any progress you can make, even if you can improve the car with even one tenth per lap, it can give you quite a few positions, so I think it’s an interesting year ahead.” 

Alongside his Formula 1 career, Valtteri has been exploring new endeavours in Australia. Uniting flavours from the two hemispheres, Valtteri and Tiffany launched Oath Gin (stylised O/\TH Gin) in 2022. “It is basically Australia and Finland combined in a gin bottle,” Valtteri said. “It’s distilled with apples from Adelaide Hills and with oats from our family farm in Finland.”

Heading into the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, Valtteri is expecting points for both cars. “That is the target, and the beauty with this sport is you never know what happens. You never know when it’s your time for a podium or something like that. So, there's always that chance of having a great result, and that is also motivating. I think if we look at our performance in the first two races, we can definitely get into top 10 in qualifying if we get everything right, and that way, get some good points.” 

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Outstanding - this was exceptional. Feedback from the team was unreal, I really thank you for delivering on the key messages!
Thomas Guether, Chief Growth Office, Compass Group


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