Those of us who have been ‘Bottas Watchers’ are going into a new Grand Prix season with a great deal of anticipation.
This Finn is very fast and he’s waited a long time for this. Champion in Formula Renault and GP3, he has started more than 100 single-seater races but never a Grand Prix. Last year, on Fridays, he showed Williams, if they needed to be shown, that he has what it takes. There were days when he was faster than the race drivers.
“Yes, it was not always easy watching Senna race the car,” he smiles, ” but I think it was the best option. I was there, watching and learning, and I feel good about going racing now. It’s been a while, but I’m ready and I feel good.”
Many within the team had lobbied for him to race alongside Maldonado in 2012 but it was not to be. Now it is, and his presence on the grid in 2013 will be the focus of much attention.
This week I had a chat with Valtteri after the pre-season lunch at Grove. What you sense immediately is his fitness, his ambition and his satisfaction at finally taking his place on the grid. He has a slightly diffident charm, a glint in the very focused eyes, and an easy humour. For a Finn, he is communicative, open and patient.
“Yeah, Finns have done quite well,” he says, deadpan, “and thanks to Keke, Mika and Kimi the profile of Finnish drivers has been raised, so I want to keep the tradition going.
I’ve had so much support, and I am proud to race for Finland. We are all more or less of the same mentality, sometimes it’s better to be quiet, to get on with it, do the job on the track. I mean there are many times when, you know, the driving can do the talking. I think we are the same that way.”
Earlier Pastor Maldonado had said they were working well together, they were friends, and helping each other develop the new car. I wonder how long that will last? Valtteri smiles when I ask him, pauses for correctness.
“We will see,” he laughs, “we are both competitive characters, we want to do well, and we both want to beat each other, that’s how it goes. But at the same time we are OK with it, there is no need for us to fight away from the track. It should be OK.”
So what does he expect to achieve in his rookie season? “The goal is to score points, to beat Force India and Sauber who were ahead of us last year. The car was not so good last year but in testing I could feel it was a better car, and I am confident it will be better. We want to be top five in the constructors’ and for me, I want to finish races, score some points. I want to race, not spend the whole year learning. If there are mistakes, I need to learn from them, not do them again. I need to be consistent.”
Away from the pressure cooker that is Grand Prix racing, Valtteri takes his fitness very seriously. His girlfriend is an Olympic swimmer, his trainer an Olympic athlete, and he likes to be fitter than both of them. “Yes, I am fit, and I can feel that when I’m in the car,” he tells me, “but I like to get away too, to be on my own, and keep a distance from the racing. I like to be in a quiet place, I am renting a cottage in a village in the countryside, and there is no Formula 1 noise anywhere near me there.”
His love of speed was what got him started in karting, then it was the skills of beating the others, of finding a tenth here, a tenth there, by analysing every corner in detail, where to find those vital hundredths of a second. These analytical skills will count when it comes down to the fiercely competitive business of 21st century Formula 1. He was just six years old when the bug bit him and now he’s where he always wanted to be, a Grand Prix driver for one of the great teams and a team that is working its way back to where it belongs.
Valtteri Bottas will be a man to watch in 2013. He has finally worked his way into the right place at the right time. He has the natural speed of the truly talented. If the car is good, you will be hearing a lot more about the new Finn on the Grand Prix grid.