It’s been a year of evolution in Formula 1 in 2022, the sport launched sweeping changes to its cars to bring about closer racing, there’s a new two-time World Champion in town and Valtteri Bottas left a dominant Mercedes F1 team to join midfield squad Alfa Romeo.
“So far it has been really interesting,” says the new Alfa Romeo driver when we talk ahead of this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
With his new team, Bottas has gone from fighting for race wins against former teammate Lewis Hamilton to being the elder statesman in a squad looking to play the long game and climb up the pecking order.
“The start of the year was a bit better than we expected, we were consistently scoring good points,” says Bottas.
“But as it is a project where we aim for long term gains, not overnight gains, it was a bit surprising. Things have been a bit challenging since then, I think with the challenges we have faced, like with the reliability etc, once we overcome those, that is going to help us in the future.
“And already, I think for next year’s car we have understood many things that we can do better from this year.”
At the Italian team, Bottas partners 2022 rookie Zhou Guanyu. After years spent racing alongside more experienced teammates such as Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, Bottas now finds himself as the elder mentor at Alfa Romeo.
“I am enjoying it,” he says, during an interview organized by Alfa Romeo sponsor Hyland. “It’s a different kind of role in the team as well – being the more experienced driver, having a bit more say on things is really enjoyable.”
So far this year, Bottas and Zhou have helped Alfa Romeo to sixth in the constructors standings. The squad has 52 points after 18 races, but Bottas has proven the breadwinner and so far notched up 46 of the team’s haul.
The Fin has also so far, out-qualified his much younger teammate on 12 occasions in 2022. But, his role at the Italian team is about setting an example for his young partner.
He says: “I can relate so well to my teammate, having a first year in F1 with a lot of pressure and having to prove that you belong in F1. It’s not easy, and you want to learn and improve as fast as you can. You want to ask questions of your teammate, and that’s what he has been doing. He has been learning a lot, has been really consistent and we’ve seen good progress of him.
“And for me, it was always going to come a time that I would be the old guy in the team. So I take it, and it’s fun. I enjoy it.”
As the “old guy” at Alfa Romeo, Bottas is looked to as a leader as it eyes advances up the grid. It’s a role that’s new to him, after nine years alongside experienced teammates. But, he says it has “been really natural” stepping up to the plate.
And, he says he’s seen similarities between his relationship with Zhou and the partnership he formed with experienced drivers such as Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa in his early days at Williams.
“I remember how much I could learn in my early stage of my career from the more experienced drivers,” he says. “It feels like yesterday, so I definitely can relate.”
Now, with just four races left on the 2022 season, Bottas says attention at Alfa Romeo has switched to its 2023 campaign, when the team hopes to learn from its struggles this year. As such, the team will bring one final update to this weekend’s race in Austin.
“Back at the factory, the development switched to next year quite a while ago,” explains Bottas.
“We still have new upgrades coming due to how long it takes to make the parts, but they have been in the pipeline for quite some time. This week, we are getting the last upgrades for the year. But in terms of the wind tunnel hours and everything, everything has been already focused on next year for a long time.”
The development of next year’s car will focus on ironing out the weak points the team has run into in 2022. Next year’s Alfa Romeo car will be “a new car, basically,” according to Bottas, who adds that the team is “trying to make it faster and more reliable.”