'I almost stopped racing when I couldn't beat Lewis', says Valtteri Bottas


Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes expecting to win the F1 title. But, unable to beat Lewis Hamilton and without a win in 2018, he reveals that he was "so close" to retiring — until a walk in a Finnish forest...

Valtteri Bottas stands next to LEwis Hamilton who is looking at his phone

Bottas with Hamilton in 2018

Grand Prix Photo

Valtteri Bottas has revealed that he almost stopped racing at the end of 2018 after two seasons of struggling to match team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Speaking on Motor Sport’s My big break podcast, the Finn said that he joined Mercedes in 2017 with the attitude that he was going to win the world championship, and was then too hard on himself when he was roundly beaten by Hamilton, who was “welded in” to the team.

“At the end of 2018, I almost stopped,” said the current Alfa Romeo driver. “It was so close. I couldn’t understand and you know, taking tthe fact that I couldn’t beat Lewis in those two years, I put so much pressure on myself.”

Bottas was still weighing up his decision at the beginning of 2019, but his mind was weighed up on a solitary walk through a frozen Finnish forest. “I was like, F**k, yeah, let’s do this. And then I won the first race.”

After Nico Rosberg retired at the end of 2016, Bottas secured a switch from Williams to Mercedes, thanks to a compensation agreement. “I might have even put my hand into my pocket,” he says in the podcast. He also had a “weird” negotiation with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff who had managed him for years and was now suddenly on the other side of the table as his future boss.

“The only thing I was thinking, when I joined the team was that now, this year, I’m going to win the championship. That was my attitude. I think I was quite hard on myself because it didn’t happen. And I was like, oh, OK, I’ll try next year even harder —  didn’t happen. It’s really not easy to accept the situation that, OK, it’s not that easy to beat Lewis when he’s at his peak performance.”

Three victories in 2017 represented a decent debut year, where Bottas finished third in the championship behind title-winner Hamilton. But he then ended 2018 fifth in the championship, without a victory, as Hamilton added another championship to his tally with 11 race wins.

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At one low point in Sochi, he had been leading the Russian Grand Prix when he was ordered to move aside for Hamilton who was fighting for the championship with Sebastian Vettel.

Bottas has already said that he considered quitting Mercedes after that incident, but now he said that he gave the idea more serious thought after the final race of the season.

“Towards the end of ’18, especially when I started to have the support role in the team, I really couldn’t take it, I really struggled. It was not fun, the last four or five races.

“Lewis had been parked there for a long time. As a driver, and a person in the team, he’s the dominant person. So it’s quite difficult to step up and I never could really step up in a way that I wanted alongside Louis, because the team was so welded in, and he’s Lewis so everyone looks up to him.

Bottas Hamilton and Vettel on the podium after the Russian Grand Prix

A low point of 2018: on the podium after the 2018 Russian GP

Grand Prix Photo

“The human mind is strange, in a way that sometimes you go into dark places, and you you lose the joy on things, and I just lost the joy of F1 and racing in F1. I was almost angry to F1.

“You should enjoy F1, it’s pretty cool. But it wasn’t that at all. So I had a good break, between the two seasons, and really had to think things through… I had radio silence [with the team] for the whole winter.”

After a holiday in South America and New Year’s celebrations, Bottas was back home when the decision came to him “like a click”.

“I was walking in a Finnish forest, middle of nowhere: sometimes I like to disappear and go for a hike or something for one or two hours in the snow. And then yeah, I was standing still and I could feel this adrenalin and I was like, ‘F**k, yeah, let’s do this’. And then I won the first race.”

That Australian Grand Prix victory brought the famous radio message: “To whom it may concern, f**k you”. It was directed, said Bottas, to the people “trying to push me down”. He went on to win four races that year and ended the season runner-up in the championship.

“Now when I look back at it, it was a great school for me: I learned a lot about myself, sometimes to give me a bit more leash in a way and not to be too hard on myself on some things. But also I just learned so much about everything that I’m really, really glad it happened.”