Bottas's role in revitalising Alfa Romeo: 'He's a leader on and off the track'


Valtteri Bottas chased down George Russell at Imola, motivated - he says - by the thought of beating his former team. Here's how the Alfa Romeo driver became a surprise star of the 2022 F1 season

Valtteri Bottas Formula 1 Imola 2022

Bottas and Alfa Romeo have both regrouped and attacked 2022 with renewed vigour


When Valtteri Bottas was shuffled out of Mercedes last summer and his move to Alfa Romeo was announced, few expected him to make much of an impact in 2022.

After all at the time the Swiss team was ninth in the World Championship, ahead only of Haas, and Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi often struggled to make Q2.

And yet Bottas has turned into one of the stars of the 2022 season as he’s helped to give a resurgent Alfa team a boost – and on occasion he’s found himself ahead of former team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Sixth in the Bahrain opener, he retired in Saudi Arabia due to an unusual blockage in the cooling system, while on target for another sixth or seventh place.

After a disappointing qualifying in Australia – his first failure to make Q3 in 104 races – he logged eighth in the Melbourne race. The highlight so far was undoubtedly Imola, on a weekend when things didn’t exactly go to plan for the Finn.

Valtteri Bottas Formula 1 Bahrain GP 2022

Bottas scored points on Alfa debut in Bahrain

Alfa Romeo

Having made Q3 he then suffered a broken exhaust, and was thus asked to stop on track during the session as the wiring loom and other items around the rear of the car melted. His earlier time still earned him eighth on the sprint grid.

He missed all of the useful Saturday morning dry FP2 session while the team worked to build up the spare chassis due to the fire damage to his original. Having lost a couple of spots at the start of the sprint, he worked his way up to sixth by the end of it.

On the first lap of the Grand Prix he rammed the back of Daniel Ricciardo after the Aussie tangled with Carlos Sainz, fortunately without major ill-effects. With George Russell and Kevin Magnussen getting past, he ended the first lap in sixth.

Related article

He worked his way past Magnussen but then at the stop for dry tyres 10 seconds were lost, although fortunately no positions. He spent the rest of the race chasing down Russell, jogging memories of their spectacular clash at the same venue the previous year. He got onto the tail of the Mercedes, but couldn’t find a way past.

Nevertheless fifth was another great result for Bottas and his team.

“Good to get 10 points from this race,” he said. “The car was really good today. Obviously it’s unfortunate that we lost bit of time during the pitstop, but these things happen, and we need to learn from it. But apart from that, a really strong race.

“When we went to the slicks, I really could push like qualifying every lap. So that made it pretty fun. And especially the middle to the end of that stint we had really good performance, good pace. Only the last few laps once I got close to George my rear right started to grain a bit, once I was demanding a bit more traction and so on. So just couldn’t quite get him, but maybe next time.”

The 2021 clash with George Russell at the same circuit didn’t play on his mind, although Bottas admitted the thought of beating the man who had replaced him at Mercedes was a driving force in the closing laps. “I tried not to think about [the previous year’s crash], obviously. But Mercedes and George, that was my motivation throughout the race, to push every lap and hopefully get a chance towards the end. But I didn’t quite get it. And I lost like 10 seconds in the pit stop, so without that for sure. It could have been a bit different.

“If you look at the time we would have been close to P3, but would it have been possible to overtake? That’s the question mark.”

Valtteri Bottas Formula 1 Imola 2022

Focus on ’22 development has helped Alfa get the jump on several midfield rivals

Alfa Romeo

Four races into the season Bottas lies eighth in the World Championship, just four points behind Hamilton. Without the Jeddah retirement he would be ahead.

The Mercedes struggle is a scenario that no one could have envisaged, but there are sound reasons why Alfa has made a step.

Like others towards the back of the grid the team did virtually no development on its 2021 car, and made an early switch to the 2022 model. Throw in an improved Ferrari power unit, which has clearly also helped Haas, and there’s some logic behind the step the team has made.

“In 2020, we decided to almost freeze the cars by regulation,” team boss Fred Vasseur tells Motor Sport. “And for us, we knew that the package that was not a mega one. To develop, to spend energy when you are at the end of the project, and you are struggling to make a point on the downforce each week, made no sense.

“I think we took the right decision at the end of 2020 – let’s fully focus on ’22. It’s paying off today – you can spend hours into the wind tunnel and not do a good job, but we did.”

It was by no means guaranteed that the team would get its sums right on the 2022 model. Others have clearly been less fortunate.

“For sure,” says Vasseur. “Because you can spend hours and a fortune and at the end do a shitty project. And it’s been a pain in the past for different teams. It’s never a given that starting early you will be on a good position.

“But I think that we had a good approach, and we had to develop the car for the first time under the umbrella of the cost cap. And it was for us perhaps also an advantage, because we were used to doing the job with this kind of budget. And everything went quite smoothly.”

The guys at Hinwil had to create a decent car, but Bottas has also played a huge role in raising the team’s game. He learned a lot during his five-year tenure with Mercedes, and his 20 pole positions and 10 wins attest to his ability.

All of that knowledge and skill is now being channeled into his new job with Alfa, where he has – as was Vasseur’s intention – taken on a leadership role.

Valtteri Bottas Formula 1 Imola 2022

Bottas has quickly formed a strong relationship with his engineers

Alfa Romeo

Vasseur’s ART teams ran Bottas in F3 in 2009 and 2010, and during his title-winning GP3 campaign in 2011. The Frenchman knew what his former driver could bring to Alfa and successfully persuaded Bottas, who also had the option to return to Williams, to replace countryman Kimi Räikkönen.

“I was expecting this level of commitment,” says the team boss. “I’m not surprised that he is doing the job – in the car, with the engineers in the debrief, to be the leader and show the paths of the development.

“But also, and probably more important for me, he’s playing the same role at the factory. He is very often there with the team and with the engineers trying to get the best from everybody, from every single situation, creating a very good team spirit.

“It’s part of the job of the drivers, and he is doing it very well. When you are the team-mate of Lewis or Max, I think it’s quite obvious that you will be somehow a bit into the shadow. He was more than pleased to take a different position with us. And he’s doing it very well.”

Related article

Crucially the team now has someone who can benchmark the car. With the Räikkönen/Giovinazzi combination the engineers could never be quite sure – the former was obviously at the end of his career and still quick on his day, while the latter could do a good lap, but was inconsistent. With Bottas the team knows where it is.

“I’m a big fan of statistics,” says Vasseur. “Over the last two or three years he was 0.2sec off Lewis, and if you consider they didn’t always have exactly the same spec, it’s a very strong performance.

“And for sure for the team it’s, not an insurance, but when you start the session, you know that the guy who sits in the car has this kind of level of performance, no doubt.

“And if you look on the performance from Valtteri, he is very consistent, he is always able to do the job, he puts some very strong laps into quali. It’s not just pure performance, but the approach of the team is a bit different.”

In other words if Bottas has a viewpoint on what set-up direction is required, the engineers trust him completely. He is clearly in a good place right now. Driving for Mercedes and having a winning car at his disposal every weekend, was obviously an incredible experience. But being in Hamilton’s shadow, and forever being asked if he was worried about losing his job, was draining. Now he knows that his knowledge and input is essential, and is having a direct impact. Meanwhile those comparisons with his former team are inevitable.

Valtteri Bottas Formula 1 Imola 2022

Bottas is clearly in a happier place now than at his latter days at Mercedes

Alfa Romeo

“It is surprising,” he says of the Mercedes slump. “Never expected it to be that that tricky, but they’re still scoring points. Hopefully we can score more than them.

“I’m very happy to be in a place where I’m at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it and obviously, we had better race pace today in the end [at Imola]. I don’t know the reasons why they’re struggling, I don’t know the technical details.

“I focus on our things and focus on improving our car, which we did this weekend, and hopefully we can do it in the next race as well.”