Mercury Rev: 10 Minutes with Valtteri Bottas

Monster Energy’s Eric Johnson spoke with Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas…

As the script was written, when Nico Rosberg shocked the racing world with the announcement of his retirement immediately after winning the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team went looking for a replacement to team with the sensational Lewis Hamilton.

And on January 16, 2017, the team announced that they had found their man in Valtteri Bottas. Hailing from Nastola, Finland, Bottas, who had just completed his fourth season behind the wheel of the Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38, was drafted into a race enterprise which had known nothing but winning for three straight globetrotting F1 seasons.

And while it was a dream assignment for then 27 year-old who would pilot the No. 77 Mercedes F1 W08, it certainly came with great expectation, not to mention ultra-high pressure. But the Finn adjusted well to not only win to grands prix in 2017, but to also have a heavy hand in winning Mercedes its fourth straight F1 Constructors’ Championship.

A few days after the running of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Monster Energy spoke with the driver who has kept Lewis Hamilton honest all year long.

Okay Valtteri, the 2017 season is now virtually complete. All things considered, and when you review what has transpired in 2017, how do you feel about your first season with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Benz F1 Team?
Well, for sure it has been really interesting and exciting and definitely created memories that I will always remember. Memories like my first win and my first pole. Performance-wise, I can’t be too happy because for the season I set myself a goal to fight for the championship and to win the championship. That was my goal. But I failed. That is disappointing to me, definitely. But on the other hand, one of the positives was that I learned massively and I really think next year I can be a lot better and more complete driver and quicker. That’s why I’m really looking forward to next year.

Was it a daunting challenge for you coming into 2017? I’m assuming a lot was expected of you from Mercedes-Benz.
You sort of go, “Wow, that’s a lot to do.” Not necessarily do you fear it, but you recognize it’s a big challenge. I understood it when I signed with Mercedes and before that the team had won everything the last three years and of course the goal was nothing less for this season. And we made it happen. We won both championships. I always knew it was going to be hard works, especially with joining a new team. I knew it was going to be a lot of work. I was definitely prepared to work hard and take over all the information.

Coming from the Williams Martini Racing Team and racing the Williams FW38, did it take you a while to adjust to the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team culture and Mercedes F1 W08 car?
Yeah, for sure. It did.

What was your immediate and developing impression of the F1 W08?
It was very good because there was also the regulation change , so the cars were all a lot quicker. At Barcelona at the first proper test that we had, I never experienced anything like that. Anything in terms of how many G forces we were pulling and so on, so it was all very positive. But then, of course, driving more you started to notice certain weaknesses with the car and etcetera, but the initial feeling was really, really good.

To your way of seeing things, what have been the high points and the low points of your 2017 F1 season?
High points, I would say getting my first win quite early on in the season. That was at the fourth race. That’s very good in a way because if it would have been dragging on a long time, it could become a “thing” and then, usually, you try too hard. The most difficult part was the next few races after the August break because I set myself a clear target and I believed in myself that I could be a lot better in the second half of the season than the first half, but up until Austin and Mexico, that definitely wasn’t the case. That was the tough point and I just learned massively during those tricky times. I think that will only help me next year.

What was the experience of winning your first F1 Grand Prix like? Not too many people on Planet Earth get to experience such a thing.
It was amazing. It took me a few days to understand it. It was quite busy after that, also. I think Sunday night I flew to Budapest. We had an event in Budapest and then two of my best friends flew over as a surprise so we had a bit of a party in Budapest. Finally, on Tuesday, I got home and when I got home I started to realize, “Okay, that actually happened.”

Did you get to keep the trophy for winning the Russian Grand Prix?
So, normally not. But in this case, yes. Yep. But I’m not going to say where it is. That’s my treasure.

What is the best thing about being a member of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team?
The best thing is just feeling a part of the team and it is such an amazing team. No team has done before, after such a big regulation change to still continue winning. Just to be a part of that, to be part of the family, is fantastic.

Maybe the toughest or most difficult things about being on the Mercedes team?
It is more work because the mentality is something which I like. Everyone works really hard. Nothing else is better than winning, so it makes people work harder and harder and it’s a busier life. For me, otherwise, it’s less time home, but I’m used to it. I have always live out of a suitcase.

Lewis Hamilton speaks very highly of you as a racer, teammate and person. Nobody likes his teammate when the lights go out at the start of a F1 race, but you guys appear to get along well. How come?
I think it’s because we both understand the facts that we do want be better than each other on the track. Definitely. When he’s better than me on track, for sure it doesn’t feel good for me. And vice-versa. We know the facts and still when the situation is not ideal,  we know we need to work as a team and we have no reason to hide anything from each other. We want to beat each other fair and we give respect. It was actually in Melbourne when we agreed before the race that we agreed upon these things to where we were both on the same page. We just want to go out and race and work as a team and get the job done.

Was it special for you to be a part of the team which clinched the fourth consecutive Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship?
Yeah, definitely. It was really special. It feels good because you’ve done something right, you know? No one driver can win it for the team, so you need two drivers for that and of course it is a good feeling. The team has also given me a lot of credit for that, so it is a good feeling. Like I said, after such a big rule change, winning the championship again is really special and it shows how strong the team is.

And are you thrilled to be re-signed to the Mercedes-Benz F1 team for 2018?
Yeah, of course. Very happy. Well, for me, it’s the best place to be. It was the best team this year and our aim is to be best next year, so who would want to look anywhere else? Lewis also gives me a massive challenge so he makes me also work harder and try more and he will also make me a better driver. It is a really good goal for me to try and beat him

Can you win the 2018 F1 title? If so, what is it going to take?
Well, I need more consistency. It was a bit up and down this season. There were some really good moments, like it started steadily and then it was really good and then just before the August break, I think the last four races, I scored more points than Sebastian [Vettel] and Louis, so it was really good again. And the my performance kind of dipped for different reasons. I need to be a more consistent, more complete driver and understand the car better and be better with setting up the car, but all of those things I’ve learned massively from this year, so that’s why I think it’s possible.

Real quick, what was your favorite thing about racing at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas this year?
Well, it’s just a nice place. It was a nice track and the people are supportive. The weather is normally good. And they have massive steaks, which I love!

– By Eric Johnson