Hamilton's teammate is enjoying a stellar season. TG.com chats to F1’s Finnish superhero
Top Gear: You’ve just met one of the original Flying Finns, Hannu Mikkola. Were people like him household name superstars when you were a kid?
Valtteri Bottas: The guys in rallying and F1 have always been admired in Finland, especially among kids and when you’re in karts. For me, Mika Hakkinen was the inspiration to get into F1, and made me work harder. I was six when I started karting, and nine when Mika won his first title.
TG: So, that first win in Russia…
VB: It’s very special. It really is. It took a few days to realise it. There was a bit of pressure from Sebastian…
TG: At least he didn’t drive into you.
VB: [laughs] No. The main thing was to try to keep it together. I had that lock-up and flat-spotted the tyre, and the vibration was pretty bad. In fact, I struggled to see my braking marks after that. I went corner-by-corner, lap-by-lap, concentrated on my lap, didn’t worry too much about what was happening in my mirrors.
TG: How much can you actually see in those, in the heat of battle?
VB: Just about enough. Enough to know the distance to the car behind. But as I say, I didn’t really want to know. During the last ten laps, I asked the team for more silence on the radio, to minimise the communication so I could just get on with it.
TG: There was immense pressure coming into the team, replacing the World Champion. And you must be thinking about next year now.
VB: It’s been great, I’m really enjoying it, and I think we’re still getting stronger as a team. My target is to have a long-term relationship with Mercedes, although there is no confirmation yet. Even though the last few years have been mega for the team, there’s still a lot more to achieve. I have Nico’s mechanics, I don’t know how it was in detail before, but all I can say is that there’s a good team spirit and we’re working together with Lewis.
TG: Do you share anything?
VB: Yes. Everything. All the telemetry. Because it’s better for the team.
TG: Are the 2017 cars as awesome as they look?
VB: [smiling] They are. For me, it’s more fun than before. To get to the limit now is a bit harder because of the bigger loads. The first couple of runs testing at Barcelona, going through turn three flat-out, was amazing. They’re more tricky in general, because there’s more downforce, they’re a lot quicker in high-speed corners – which we all like – but it’s more difficult to follow another car because you lose so much downforce. It depends on the track. The car starts sliding more, and you can overheat the tyres. F1 aero is so much about the flow of the air out of the front wing, the vortices generated in that area that are directed to the floor and wherever it needs to go, and once you lose there you also lose the rear end.
TG: But you’re a Finn so you’re naturally good at going sideways…
VB: [laughs] I don’t mind going sideways, but F1 cars aren’t really made for that.
TG: How do you like to set your car up?
VB: I hate understeer. A well-balanced car is obviously what you want, but if I had to choose between understeer or oversteer, I definitely like a car a bit more pointy, more oversteery. I like drifting in fast road cars, or in any other car than an F1 car in fact.
TG: AMG’s road cars are pretty good at it, you know.
VB: I do know. The GT is a lot of fun. I’ve got a C63 coupe, but I do have a Porsche as well. Not sure I’m allowed to mention that. I don’t have any proper supercars, I like to keep it a bit lower profile. I live in Monaco, so it’s the right car for there, and I can pick up people from the airport and have room for their luggage.
TG: We’re talking about bootspace in your Mercedes… Let’s move onto the controversy in Baku last weekend. Personally, and this is just my view, I thought it refreshing to see Sebastian just lose it in the moment like that. It made him look human. But is it completely unforgivable, from your point of view as a racing driver?
VB: [pause] I don’t know really, it’s… er…
TG: Would you ever do that?
VB: No, I wouldn’t.
TG: Do you ever get angry in a car?
VB: Not really. I never leave any space for emotions. I don’t know what to say, really. In the heat of the moment, different things can come up, you know? But I wouldn’t do that, no.
TG: So how do you manage your emotions?
VB: For me it’s quite natural. I just focus on the things that matter. If you get pissed off or angry, it’s not good for your performance. You can always see it in the lap time if your head is focusing on things that don’t matter.
TG: With the higher cornering speeds and extra loads, you must be looking forward to Silverstone. Copse and the Maggots and Becketts complex are going to be mighty this year.
VB: It’s going to be really quick. Copse is going to be flat-out, I think. Spa and Suzuka. They’re my two favourite tracks because of the change of elevation and the high-speed corners. Silverstone and Austin, they’ll be a lot of fun too. It’s amazing to see all the eras represented here at Goodwood, and I loved watching F1 in the 1990s. But I think this is going to be a vintage year. The drivers are all enjoying the cars.
TG: Did you congratulate Lance Stroll after the Azerbaijan GP [Bottas overtook the Williams rookie just before the finish line to take second place]? You were dead last at one point…
VB: Well I saw him on the podium. I was one lap down. You never know, you just keep your head down and keep pushing, even if it’s hard to imagine improving from so far back. It’s just proof that you should never give up. It certainly felt good.
TG: What is it about Finns, you have this almost Zen temperament?
VB: [laughs out loud] I don’t know. We’re just… us.