Throughout the first half of 2014’s Formula 1 campaign, there have been perhaps three or four standout talents – names that always somehow appear towards the sharp end once the chequered flag is raised. Whilst two of those names – Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton – are fighting directly for the World Drivers Championship, one of the remaining few standout performers is fighting for something equally as rewarding; respect.
Valtteri Bottas is now at the midpoint of his second competitive season in Formula 1. After categorically outperforming a once highly-rated teammate in Pastor Maldonado during his 2013 debut, the 24 year old Finnish prodigy has gone from strength to strength, and has managed to shoehorn himself onto three podiums on his way to amassing a tally of 95 points, placing him in a very respectable 5th position in the Drivers Championship standings as we head into the summer break.
Such success, consistency, and promise of further improvement has finally opened the eyes of countless F1 personnel as to just how enormous Bottas’ potential is.
During the British Grand Prix weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with the man himself; to discuss his F1 career so far, team relations, as well as digging a little deeper to reveal his personal opinions on other F1 matters.
JAMES: Do you think beginning your F1 career with a team you were already familiar with really benefitted you?
BOTTAS: Yes, definitely. In the past I had spent a lot of time at the factory. As test driver in 2012 I got to know everyone in the team, and last year already knowing everyone really helped. They give me lots of support.
JAMES: Throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, Williams were in their prime – the full force of their competitiveness in Formula One. They produce some – not only competitive – but visually stunning cars too. If you had the chance to drive one of those Williams cars, which one would it be?
BOTTAS: I have actually driven my one already. It was the Keke Rosberg championship winning car. That was very special for me to see a Finnish driver win the title and it certainly opened up the road for other Finn’s in motorsport – including myself.
JAMES: That brings me on to my next question… When you were growing up, coming into your competitive career, the likes of Rosberg and then later Häkkinen and more recently Raikkonen were already large forces within F1. Because of this, did you hold them in particularly high regard? Were they motivational figures to you?
BOTTAS: I think especially Häkkinen, in his time – ’98, ’99… Winning those titles, I was go-karting and he was the man who gave me a big motivation boost. I was looking up to him and thinking ‘wow.’
JAMES: Can you remember the first time you met Häkkinen?
BOTTAS: That was in 2008; when he asked me if he could be my manager. That was cool.
JAMES: With the 50th anniversary of the British Grand Prix imminent, have you got any personal memories of Silverstone or the British Grand Prix?
BOTTAS: It has always been an interesting race. I have seen a lot on TV and have also raced there myself in Formula Renault. I had a great race with Daniel Riccirado in Formula Renault back in 2008.
JAMES: With team mate relations at the forefront of current F1 headlines, do you consider your and Felipe’s relationship to be purely professional, or is there something beyond that? More of a friendship?
BOTTAS: I think like any team mates, it is always going to be more professional rather than friendship based. It’s quite difficult to become the best of friends, of course, but we have no issues and get along quite well to be honest. Felipe is a nice guy. However when we get on the track, both of us want to be faster than the other.
JAMES: You pace in recent races, most noticeably Austria, has been impressive and you appear to be closing the gap between the Mercedes cars and your own. Do you think that a Williams can win a race this year?
BOTTAS: I think Mercedes, this year, will always be ahead. Saying that, we need to be there – we need to be ready just in case anything happens in a race. Any problems for Mercedes we need to turn into in our advantage. First however we have to focus on getting a couple of stages higher in the constructors table. We aren’t in a hurry to be at the top, but in the future we do hope to there.
JAMES: You seem to be remarkably comfortable within the Williams team, obviously being there for a number of years now. Do you see yourself remaining at the Williams team for the foreseeable future?
BOTTAS: Yeah, why not? I haven’t really thought about other teams as the one I am in now seems so natural. At the end of the day, they gave me the opportunity to come to Formula One. The team is on the right path, so I see no reason not to stick around.
JAMES: Now on to a couple of ‘off the record’ questions to end this interview.
BOTTAS: Haha, give me your best.
JAMES: The title fight between Rosberg and Hamilton is one of the main interests in F1 at the moment. Who do you think has the upper hand?
BOTTAS: I think Lewis. He has in general been that little bit quicker. We will see. I think the double points in the last race will prove to be interesting though.
JAMES: Finally, who do you see as the ‘greatest’ F1 driver of all time?
BOTTAS: I can’t answer that. There is so much to consider; the cars, the technology at the time; the safety; all important influences.
JAMES: Not one name?
BOTTAS: Well for me it has to be Häkkinen. That’s personal to me. But to answer who really was the best? Who knows.
Only time will tell as to whether or not Valtteri Bottas can carve his own name into the the the wall of F1 immortality, but one thing remains a certainty; if the Williams star can continue to improve at such a phenomenal rate, F1’s modern era Flying Finn will be destined to achieve truly great things.