Valtteri Bottas speaks on how constant one-year contract extensions, not just at Mercedes, Williams too, were no longer feasible for him going forward in his career.
Since Bottas arrived on the F1 scene back in 2013 with Williams, it was quickly clear that he was a talent. However, remarkably this talent was never rewarded with a long term contract, anywhere. He spent four seasons with the British team before his move to Mercedes in 2017 and as a result, the spotlight has been on him ever since.
The pressure in F1, no matter who you are, is immense, but when you are Lewis Hamilton’s teammate and in the best team on the grid, this pressure is compounded. Especially when it’s coming internally and externally. And Bottas noted that he felt a bit more on the edge with just the one-year contracts he was getting.
“It probably had a bigger effect on me than I thought it would, because once everything was done, and I knew what I’m going to do for the next few years, I just felt a bit more like freedom and less pressure in a way,” said Bottas. “It felt almost like a weight lifted off the shoulders. That’s the feeling, and it’s something I’ve never had before.”
This in reference to his multi-year deal at Alfa Romeo, an environment that for Bottas will be much less pressurised given he won’t be fighting for his seat every year. Perhaps those circumstances could unlock a better version of the Fin. “I can focus on to something with a team, with the people around for a few years ahead, not just focusing for one year.
“Normally, it’s after like six months that I need to fight for my seat. So just being able to have that kind of trust from a team, that they know that I’m going to do the best I can for a few years, just feels good. And I can just really, really focus on the job and think about what I’m going to do in 2022,” continued Bottas.
It is a much more long term situation for Bottas and there is clearly a project at Alfa Romeo and having that trust and belief from the team as well as a few years to execute the plan, should suit the Finn. Being team leader and driving the team forward with his talent and experience, will no doubt be a challenge that he will relish. He may not be fighting at the sharp end of the grid but on a personal level, it might be much more satisfying for him.
But pressure is a part of all sport, not just F1 and naturally it will affect drivers. Bottas has held down probably the most scrutinised seat on the grid for half a decade and achieved some incredible things as a driver and as a team. “Everyone is individual in how they cope with pressure, and which kind of pressure and which kind of length of the pressure,” he said.
“But for me, five years in that similar situation, of never being able to think further than six months, it doesn’t work.” From the outside, it’s hard to tell how Bottas coped with the pressure, but his performances always seemed to get better once he’d signed a new deal, i.e., when the pressure was lifted. As he says, like a weight of his shoulders.
“It was definitely easier in the beginning, even though there were always discussions pretty much every year, like who’s going to be in the seats, which is a distraction,” said Bottas. “Don’t forget it was a pretty similar thing for me with Williams more or less: it was always options in the contract one year. Now it’s been basically almost nine years of not being able to think long term and what was long term.”
Obviously when Bottas joined Mercedes in 2017, the pressure was naturally less, helped by the fact he put in great performances and had a fine first season with the German outfit. It was only in parts of 2018 when he didn’t look as strong that pressure started to mount and the emergence of George Russell over the coming years played a massive part.
For the past two years, when Bottas hasn’t performed, people have looked at Russell and compared the two as to who would do the better job. One could even argue that the replacement for 2022 was not because the Finn wasn’t good enough but because Mercedes couldn’t wait any longer to get Russell into a top seat, their seat.
Had Russell not been a stakeholder in the decision, Bottas could well be gearing up for a sixth season with Mercedes. Pressure makes diamonds. That well known yet powerful saying. Something Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in relation to Bottas’ situation when asked. “I think I said to him yes for a certain amount of time it’s good,” the Finn responded. “It can be good. But for nine years?”
It had clearly worn thin for Bottas, all the years of uncertainty. But you can see Wolff’s perspective, to succeed at the top, you need to be able to deal with the pressure, something top team managers need in their drivers. All good things must come to an end. Bottas’ story with Mercedes can definitely be looked back on proudly.
A long term project at Alfa Romeo will suit the Fin much more and will be a challenge he will no doubt relish. On a personal level he may find it much more satisfying and fulfilling being team leader and having that certainty going forward as well. When one chapter ends, another begins.
The story was written by Ollie Pattas
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