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Friday images from the 2017 F1 Chinese Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas: Raising my game for 2018

Mar 122018

Formula One is a famously complicated sport. Not least for the engineers assembling the hoard of 40,000 parts that make up a modern F1 car. For drivers, the road to a race seat at the pinnacle of motorsport can prove equally onerous.

The roll call of talents lost in the tyre smoke of junior racing categories far out-numbers the 20 names confirmed to go wheel-to-wheel in 2018. Of course, once a driver has arrived in F1; the battle has only just begun. Retaining a spot at the top of the single seater tree is far from a certainty.

It’s then testament to Valtteri Bottas, that after a trial by fire inaugural season with the Silver Arrows in 2017, that the 28 year old from Nastola in southern Finland has not just retained his seat with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Team, but also vowed to return as a more complete driver and challenge for the title.

It’ll be no easy task though. Garaged alongside the prodigious talent of Lewis Hamilton – the second most successful driver of all time in F1 in terms of race wins (62) – Valtteri will have to give it everything he’s got, and push himself and his equipment to the limit.

With the first Grand Prix in Australia just around the corner, things are looking good. The talk in the paddock of F1’s trademark pre-season test venue - the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya - is that the new Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ is ominously fast and reliable in race trim. In fact the Silver Arrows’ new machine proved so reliable, that the team chose to split their days between drivers evenly so as not to wear them out.

Even with an entire day lost to snow – Mercedes covered a total of 1,040 laps, 4,841km – Lewis 456 / Valtteri 584 - or to put it another way, about three-quarters of a Grand Prix season's racing mileage. Add to that the fact that on the final day of running Valtteri lapped three tenths faster than his team mates 2017 Spanish Grand Prix qualifying time, then things are certainly looking up for #VB77 come lights out in Melbourne.

As the shutters were pulled closed on the garages in Barcelona, and the Silver Arrows team began packing up, ready to head back to base in the UK, we caught up with Valtteri to get his insight on the season ahead, and exactly what it takes to get to the top…

"I need to raise my game, and I need to be performing on average better..."

Valtteri, testing is done, how are you feeling?

It’s been a very good end to testing. As a team on the final day alone we completed more than 200 laps and I put in more than 100 laps of that in the afternoon. So that's very positive and I'm very happy with the progress. Now we need to keep working for the week and a half before we travel to Melbourne. It will be interesting to find out where we will be for sure.

Sum up last season in five words…

Interesting, Exciting, Winning, and slightly disappointing.

What was the main thing you took home from 2017?

I need to raise my game, and I need to be performing on average better. I had some really good races and times last year, winning and being consistent, but I also had periods where I wasn’t performing as well as I should have. I need to attack those issues, and learn from every single thing I can; so I can be a better and more complete driver.

How much technical knowledge is required in order to help the engineers develop a car and setup that supports your driving style?

It definitely takes a lot. For sure last year there was a lot to learn for me; you know coming into a new team and learning a completely new car, which behaves differently – and you need to drive differently. The times we had difficulty setting up the car, Lewis definitely had the upper hand because he knows the team better and knows the car better. The car, mechanically, hasn’t changed that much in the last few years, but for sure it’s only going to get better and better for me as my experience grows.

Tell me quickly about Sisu – is it a bag of sweets, the way you drive, or something more?

Well, yes, it is a bag of sweets [laughs] but there is a saying that you know, Finns in general are maybe a little bit different to other Europeans in little ways in terms of how we behave and how we deal with situations. People attach a mental strength to us. I think that maybe comes from quite difficult times that our country had in the past. That’s maybe why we are quite selfish in a way, and don’t give up on things very easily. So I think Sisu comes from that!

So the saying “if you want to win hire a Finn” is correct then…

There must be something with the Finns to be honest; because we are such a small country relatively speaking. There’s only a population of 5.5 million people and for a long long time we’ve always had a driver in Formula One; and we [Finland] have four titles. When you compare that to how big other countries are in the winning stakes, we aren’t doing badly! On that basis I think our mentality is pretty good for the sport.

Did you ever imagine being teamed up with one of the best drivers in the world and how do you deal with the pressure?

Well of course it was quite a late call. For example the week after New Year I had no idea what was going to happen – there was no confirmation at the time. The day we announced the deal – I think it was the 15th of January – that was the day I signed! So it was quite short in terms of preparation in a way. Of course I would have preferred to have more time to spend with the team to prepare in that respect, but I was pretty much living in Brackley throughout January and February. Having meetings with engineers, spending time in the simulator and all that kind of prep. But also in the winter I like to prepare well physically for the season ahead; so I had three of four training camps [weeks] with my trainer. So it was flat out in that way!

"In terms of the racing I actually started enjoying driving more when I stepped up to Junior Formula [single-seater car] racing"

If you had not become a successful F1 driver, would you have pursued a career in motorsport, and in which capacity?

I’m pretty sure yes! I’ve been racing all my life so I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If it wasn’t motorsport, then for sure it wouldn’t be some other sport; because I like competing. But I never thought really about what I would do if I couldn’t get to F1. So I’m happy I did, because otherwise I had no plan!!

Have you got a particular favorite memory of trying to make it as a racing driver and dreaming of F1?

We used to have a caravan that we were pulling behind our car, when it was just my family and I going to races. We would always go to the race weekends together – driving off from home on a Friday and then coming back on Sunday evening. In the evenings at the tracks we would have BBQs with the people I was racing against and their families. It was just very simple then – having fun and racing. In the evenings too, there were always people to hang out with and have fun, riding around on mopeds and causing trouble like kids do! Sometimes like canisters of fuel [hah] – good times!

Looking back which racing category did you enjoy the most before reaching F1?

I think it must be the first few years when I was Karting to be honest. Between when I was 6-7-and-8 years old. That was quite relaxed and fun. In terms of the racing I actually started enjoying driving more when I stepped up to Junior Formula [single-seater car] racing. Many people ask me why I didn’t do more Karting; because compared to most drivers I did quite little. I just got so excited about the bigger and faster cars. Unlike many other drivers who seem to do it a lot – and miss it. I just prefer the faster cars! F1 was always the goal. Since the first time I sat in a go-kart I said I wanted to be a Formula One driver.

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"It’s always super exciting to drive the new car for the first time and get a feel for it."

What are the three things you’re most excited about in 2018?

Number one for a new season is always driving the new car. It’s always super exciting to drive the new car for the first time and get a feel for it. And knowing that so many hours of work have gone in to it makes it even more special. Number two will be Melbourne. It’s always really cool to get on the starting grid for the first time and seeing what we can do as a team compared to the others. And number three: I’m looking forward to all the new wins and a good end result for the year.

Thanks Valtteri, and good luck for the coming season.

Thanks guys, see you in Melbourne!