You have to feel for Valtteri Bottas. Sure, he carries a chip on his shoulder that reemerges every time he does something good, and that can be off-putting. But the guy is a roundly capable competitor that’s had the unenviable position of partnering with Formula 1's best-ever driver for the past five seasons.
Next year he’ll go to Alfa Romeo, a move I’m sure he’s not thrilled about but one that’s nevertheless necessary to ensure his continued participation in F1. For Mercedes, it was the obvious call — Bottas’ performance has slid, if anything, since his first few years in those overalls. You could argue Lewis Hamilton’s bid for his eighth title might’ve been clinched a race ago if Bottas was nearer to the front of the pack in 2021, as he’d been in years prior. Besides, George Russell has proven he’s got a bright future ahead of him and can’t afford, nor does he deserve, to wait any longer.
Formula 1 is a sport forever starved for opportunities, so when Alfa came a-knocking, Bottas pretty much has his hands tied. But moments after he agreed to the multi-year deal with the Sauber-owned outfit, he apparently received an offer from another squad prepared to pay him twice as much. What’s more, this mystery team has performed “slightly better” than Alfa over the last several seasons, by the driver’s own admission.
Bottas related all this to Finnish F1 journalist Oskari Saari last week in an interview. Local newspaper Ilta-Sanomat later picked up the news. Google Translate is apparently horrendous at Finnish, so here’s a much more natural-sounding translation courtesy of Reddit:
The ink had barely dried on Valtteri Bottas’ contract with Alfa Romeo when his phone rang. The Finnish driver had found a new stable for the 2022 season after the door to Mercedes had closed.
Suddenly he received a new proposal.
“I don’t bother saying the name when I get in trouble, but two days later the call came. We want you, we can pay twice as much as Alfa.”
But the driver had made his decision. He no longer wanted to mess up the pack, even though the offer was good.
Bottas would not reveal which garage made the offer. But he gives a hint.
“Maybe if you look at the last few years, it was slightly better (than Alfa Romeo). But I think it will be a good one.”
What teams have been “slightly better” than the Italian automaker-sponsored crew? One would assume Bottas was referring to one of, at most, four destinations: McLaren, AlphaTauri, Alpine or Aston Martin. The Alfa deal was officially announced on September 6, for the record.
It wouldn’t have been McLaren. The Woking group reconfirmed Lando Norris in May and will be entering the second year of a three-year contract with Daniel Ricciardo in 2022. AlphaTauri doesn’t really deal in known talent, with Red Bull using it as a place to develop young drivers with an eye toward moving them along to the top squad; besides, it’s believed to operate with an even slimmer budget than Alfa Romeo.
As for Alpine, the French team extended Esteban Ocon’s contract by three years in July, while it tacked another year onto Fernando Alonso’s approximately a week before the Bottas-Alfa deal was announced.
That leaves all but Aston Martin, which would certainly track. Rumors earlier in the season suggested team boss Lawrence Stroll was looking into replacing Sebastian Vettel, perhaps with Fernando Alonso at one point. Plus, Vettel’s 2022 seat was only confirmed on September 16 — 10 days after Bottas’ move was public.
I suspect if Bottas could do this all over again and had that choice, he’d pick Aston for the simple reason it’s very likely to be the more competitive car. That said, Aston’s been a massive disappointment all year long, never quite able to crack the upper midfield occupied by the likes of every other name in that aforementioned grouping of four despite much publicized and very ambitious plans for the future. Also, given the assured safety of Lance Stroll as one of the team’s drivers until his dad stops running the show, Bottas would be forever on the bubble, just like Vettel. A multi-year deal, like the one Alfa gave him and he’s repeatedly stated he’s always wanted, wouldn’t have been assured if he joined the green crew.
So, Valtteri — if for whatever reason you’re reading this, I’m sorry for the unfortunate timeline, and I wish you received those phone calls in whatever order you would have preferred. On the flip side, missing out on Aston Martin isn’t like missing out on Ferrari or McLaren. It’s not the end of the world, though I know that’s no great consolation.