Valtteri Bottas – The Man Behind the Visor

Valtteri Bottas – The Man Behind the Visor

It was pure coincidence that set a six-year-old blonde boy on an unusual career path. One of those chance occurrences in life that we have seen over and over again in the history of motor racing. Little Valtteri and his father were driving from their home in Nastola to the town of Lahti, 20 kilometres to the west, when they noticed that a go-kart race was taking place next to the road. Both father and son were mesmerised by the spectacle and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the action. It was a case of instant fascination. Young Valtteri had been bitten by the motorsport bug and from then on had only one ambition: to excel in a go-kart, to one day graduate to the highest echelon of motorsport, namely Formula One, and to win the World Championship.

Driven by a Dream

Twenty years on, Valtteri Bottas has overcome the first hurdle of getting himself established in Formula One. Better still, he now finds himself in the cockpit of a Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Silver Arrow. “It would be nice to know the answer to the question of how you become Formula One World Champion,” says Valtteri. “But there are so many factors involved. It’s not just about you as an individual.” Contrary to popular opinion, Formula One really is a team sport. Success not only depends on the driver, but also on the team and, of course, the car. “There are so many variables in our sport,” says Valtteri. “Even if you’re the best driver, you’re not going to win anything if your engine packs up ten times during the season. As a driver, you have to concentrate on your performance and give everything for the team. On your own, you don’t stand a chance.” Formula One makes multiple demands on a driver. Enduring a tough programme of training, constantly being in the public eye and maintaining full mental focus on the essentials are just a few of the personal sacrifices that an F1 driver has to make on the road to success. “But I never give up,” says Valtteri. “I still cherish my ambition of winning the world title. I will do everything I can to achieve that. It’s my life goal right now.”

The Turning Point

Valtteri laid the foundations for this long-term strategy at a young age on the karting circuits of southern Finland. Bottas senior repeatedly asked his son whether he really wanted to go kart racing. Each time, the youngster would vigorously nod and eventually Valtteri’s father realised that he had set his heart on achieving something in the sport. In his very first go-kart race, he finished third. On his second outing, he won. “As soon as I came home from school, I would ask if we could go to the local track,” recalls Valtteri. “I cannot remember my parents ever saying no.” The turning point in Valtteri’s budding career came when he was twelve years old. He had already been racing for many years and now entered the Finnish championship. But the smaller competitors had a weight advantage, which deprived him of victory and left him feeling frustrated. Driven by the will to win, Valtteri took corrective action. He began to train regularly, lost a few kilos and won the championship the next year: “I had to do everything I could to make my dream come true. This was the turning point, at which I became professional and saw racing as more than just a hobby and a fun ride.”

The Long Road to Success

Hard work and the firm belief that his ultimate objective – his ‘dream’- is achievable have been a consistent thread running through Valtteri’s career. To this end, he also completed an apprenticeship as a car mechanic – even though he had no intention of branching off on this particular career path: “I always wanted to become a racing driver, never a mechanic, but the training certainly came in handy. The technology that goes into an F1 car is highly specialised and complex. The more you understand it, the better it is for you as a driver.” This level of understanding already proved beneficial to him in various junior series. At the relatively young age of 17, Valtteri won two races in his rookie season in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. This was followed by championship titles in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup. He then graduated to the Formula 3 Euro Series, in which he drove a Mercedes-powered car for the first time. His two victories in the prestigious F3 Masters at Zandvoort were instrumental in gaining promotion to GP3, a support series to Formula One, in which he won the title at his first attempt. In doing so, the speedy Finn attracted the attention of the Williams F1 Team who signed him up as a test driver. Valtteri made optimum use of this new role, visiting the factory and absorbing as much information as possible about the tools of his trade. In his quest to make it into Formula One, he was determined not to leave anything to chance. And even when he had made that breakthrough, he saw no reason to rest on his laurels. “The first part of my dream had been fulfilled, and I was ecstatic for a few days. But I then immediately concentrated on my first race and on preparing thoroughly for it.”

Just an Average Guy from Nastola

For Valtteri, his F1 debut in Australia feels as if it was only yesterday. “It’s amazing how time flies when you’re doing something you love,” he says. “I’m already looking forward to my fifth season in Formula One. Absolutely amazing. There is no better feeling than being in the pits on Sunday – race day. The mechanics start the engine; you hear it and you feel it, and you know this precious gem will be in your hands for the next two hours. It’s now all up to you.”

He claims not to feel any pressure. On the contrary: Valtteri loves his job and enjoys life to the full: “Of course, it is also hard work. But I’m living the dream every day. Life is not just about motor racing, though. There are also other things that are very important to me: my family, my friends, my wife Emilia. Health is the most important thing of all. I value all of this because I’m living my childhood dream. I am grateful for everything, but part of me is never quite satisfied and is always aspiring to more.”

This driving ambition and his meteoric rise to Formula One have not changed him, though: “Ultimately, I’m just an average guy from Nastola in Finland, who just happens to be a Formula One driver.” When Valtteri finds time between his strict training routine, visits to the team’s factory and all the Grand Prix race weekends, he always likes to return to his home country. “There I can relax. I travel all around the world and see so many different cities, but I believe there is no better place than Nastola.”

That town of just 15,000 inhabitants is where Valtteri’s rise to the top began many years ago with a chance occurrence…

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