Valtteri Bottas: I'm very happy to stay at Mercedes

Valtteri Bottas is feeling better than before, now that Mercedes has renewed his contract for next year.

Valtteri Bottas won the Australian Grand Prix at the beginning of the season.   -  AFP

Valtteri Bottas has been in an enviable position for the last three years. The Finnish driver has the best seat on the Formula One grid with a car capable of winning races and championships. At the same time, he also has one of the toughest seats because on the other side of his Mercedes AMG Petronas team garage is Lewis Hamilton, one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen.

Sportstar caught up with the soft-spoken Finn whose contract was renewed last month by the team for 2020. In a candid chat, Bottas spoke about the challenges of going up against Hamilton, his own struggles on race day and his new mantra to sustain a title challenge.

Has the pressure been lifted off you after the contract renewal?

For sure it is better to have it sorted than (to be) under contract talks. It is one less (thing) to worry about. It is a better feeling than before. I am very happy to stay here.

How has the season gone for you? You started off well and were leading after four races...

It has been up and down. Some of them were my mistakes and some of it bad luck. We were missing in terms of performance in certain races. But having said that, this has been my strongest season in terms of qualifying and race pace. Things haven’t gone perfectly, but now the goal is to take it one weekend individually and always try to learn and improve.

Bottas’ wife Emilia is an Olympian swimmer and holds multiple Finnish records.   -  Getty Images

 

How do you see the last couple of years with Mercedes?

I think the last couple of years the title slipped away midway through the season. Then with the points situation, I had to play a supporting role. I failed in my goals in the last couple of years. But I am getting better and better. The team sees the development as well. This year the points difference is not as big. I just need to keep that going.

Your team boss Toto Wolff said you have raised your game after last year. Was there any specific work you did in the winter break? Do you believe in sports psychology?

The sport is mentally demanding and very much like a mental performance sport. So, it is better if you can focus and find the right situation in terms of absolute peace of mind and good concentration. How to get there? I have changed things over the last winter and in between races. I spent more time doing things I enjoy instead of strictly following a set programme. Like for example, rallying, which is good fun. With anything, it is about doing things I want to do. So sometimes I go for a bike ride instead of a gym session and do the gym the next day. Small things here and there. The travelling is adjusted to what I want to do and feel is the best for me.

Your wife is a former Olympian swimmer. Does it help you as a driver to have someone who understands the demands of professional sport?

For sure as sportspersons, we understand each other better on what kind of things go through your mind during a race weekend. It is difficult to sometimes disconnect from the sport when you are home. You need sacrifices to get ahead in your career and so it helps for sure. In any sport there are a lot of common things, especially on the mental side. You can always discuss things. I have learnt a lot about sport and sporting lifestyle from her because she was doing an extreme sport as well.

Bottas says it is always a challenge to go up against Lewis Hamilton and he needs to be at his own best to do it.   -  Getty Images

 

You recently tried a World Rally Championship car. How was your experience?

I liked rallying. It is more instinct based. You are all the time playing with the car and sliding. You don’t know the stages, and so you depend on pace notes. One day I would like to rally. It is good to drive something as you can develop your skills as a driver.

How does it help in improving you as a driver?

I think concentration is one big thing in which it helps. It is basic car control and not being afraid of having a bit of a slide or oversteer. I think it wakes up your instinct nicely because you are fighting with the car always.

 

How is it going up against Lewis Hamilton?

For sure it is never easy to try and be ahead of him. He is very experienced and talented. Super quick, be it qualifying or in a race. It is always a challenge and requires a lot of work and I need to be at my own best to do it. There is no chance to rest and lie back or take it easy. Otherwise, we are very good teammates and it is easy to work together.

Where do you feel you need to improve?

My biggest performance deficit to Lewis has been race pace and tyre management. We have been working hard since the beginning and this year especially. It is getting better, but it is still the main thing I have to work on. At Williams, I felt I was good in tyre management, but the car was completely different. When I came to Mercedes, we had a big rule change and the tyre sizes became bigger as well.

Two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen was a big hero for Bottas growing up. “So it was nice that he wanted to join the management and help,” he says.   -  Getty Images

 

Did you have to change your driving style coming to Mercedes? Does it demand something different to your natural style and is that taking time?

For sure it is a different driving style with this car completely. Yeah! Completely (I had to change from my natural style). But it is getting there and especially in qualifying it is quite close.

Can you tell us about the role Mika Hakkinen has played in your career?

He was a big hero for me growing up. So it was nice that he wanted to join the management and help. He has been a big help in terms of management, as well as a friend and advisor and is one of the key people for me. Motorsports is very popular in Finland. So, for me, Hakkinen was a big motivation growing up. He was a hero and I wanted to be like him.