While competing in the high-pressure circus of Formula 1 is a dream come true for racing drivers around the world, not every driver is able to wear their rose-tinted glasses for long. Case in point: Valtteri Bottas, in his first year away from the Championship-winning Mercedes F1 team, is finally learning to love Formula 1 again with Alfa Romeo.
“It was great to be on a team that won five Constructors’ titles in a row,” Bottas said of Mercedes in a recent interview with Jalopnik. “But at the same time, it is high pressure environment, and sometimes all you need is just a bit of a change of scenery to unlock yourself.”
For Bottas, that change of scenery came with his transition to Alfa Romeo. It’s a vastly different environment, to be sure: Mercedes competes for wins, while Alfa Romeo is currently more about battling for points in the midfield. The Finnish driver admits he didn’t realize how stressful things had become at Mercedes until he left.
“I can definitely say that I’ve fallen in love again with F1,” Bottas told Jalopnik. “I’m not at the moment battling for the wins, but I’m having a lot of fun, and I love what I do.”
That newfound ease is clear from how Bottas talks, even how he holds himself. Gone are the defenses he needed to combat critics eager to compare him to his former teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Instead, we see a driver who is reflective but quick to smile, one who can acknowledge his current three-race stint of retirements but still see an otherwise successful season.
“We’ve had many difficult weekends,” Bottas said, “but once we actually got things right with the setup of the car together as a team, then we got the pit stops right, we got the strategy right. When you get everything right, it’s super rewarding. Even getting a few points can almost feel like a win when it comes with hard work and teamwork. Success this year is quite different to what success meant last year, but it’s still the same feeling.”
Now, Bottas’ experience is the most challenging thing about his role in the team. With a decade in F1, Bottas is now making the transition to lead driver, helping guide his rookie teammate Zhou Guanyu on the ins and outs of F1 racing. To Bottas, that feels more like responsibility, not pressure.
Being the senior driver on the team “comes quite naturally,” he said. “It’s a role that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s nice to have more responsibility and more say on certain things. It’s something I really haven’t had before.”
The more relaxed nature of the team has allowed Bottas to more wholly enjoy his time in F1, whether he’s chatting with media or suiting up to get behind the wheel. Rather than needing to put up defenses to protect himself from criticism, Bottas is able to relax.
“When you enjoy the things you do, you do them better,” Bottas said. “I can be exactly the person I am and just try to be the best version of myself, on track and off the track, and do my job the best. That’s it.”