Alfa Romeo Embraces Valtteri Bottas
When Valtteri Bottas announced a year ago he was joining Alfa Romeo after five seasons with Mercedes, there was a sense it was the beginning of the end of his Formula 1 career.
Bottas may not have challenged teammate Lewis Hamilton for the drivers’ championship, but he was instrumental in Mercedes winning five constructors’ titles.
In contrast, Bottas joined a team that has had little success. Alfa Romeo had scored just three points in 13 races last year when Bottas confirmed he would be racing for the team this season.
Bottas, who won 10 Grands Prix with Mercedes, saw potential with Alfa Romeo and altered his mind-set. “I had enough time to prepare myself for this chapter in my career,” he said in an interview. “I basically just reset all the expectations and goals. My targets are different now, and what gives me satisfaction is maybe a different result compared to a few years ago.”
Bottas was given stability by Alfa Romeo by signing a multiyear contract. With Mercedes, he was on a rolling one-year deal.
He has also become a team leader with Alfa Romeo, stepping out of the shadow of Hamilton, who was the de facto No. 1 driver with Mercedes.
“It’s a very different feeling,” Bottas said. “It’s hard to describe, but you feel the difference. You are a very big part of the team, and what is refreshing is how rewarding even small things are when you are in that role.
“Especially at the beginning of the year, when we were scoring good points and you could see and feel the atmosphere and the motivation, it’s really rewarding when you get the results and you hit the targets.”
Hamilton said he and Bottas remained very close. They travel “to and from most of the races together.”
“I’m really grateful this friendship has continued, because we really had great years together, and the respect is huge between us,” Hamilton said.
“They’ve had an up and down year, but Valtteri is really doing an amazing job there.”
After a difficult season last year, Alfa Romeo has embraced the changes to the cars’ aerodynamic regulations this season.
Bottas scored points in seven of the first nine races, with his best result fifth in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. He did better in qualifying than Hamilton for that race and also in Saudi Arabia and Miami.
After not scoring in his last six races, Bottas is missing some aspects of driving for Mercedes.
“It was nice to have a car that you could score podiums with consistently and fight for wins,” Bottas said.
His teammate is the rookie Zhou Guanyu, who Bottas is guiding.
Frédéric Vasseur, the team principal, has been impressed with their relationship.
“They are very team-oriented,” Vasseur said in an interview. “For everybody, it’s so easy to work with them.
“Since Valtteri arrived, he has been helping Zhou, providing good feedback. I could not ask for any more.”
Behind the scenes, Bottas’ experience has also been invaluable.
“When he is at the factory, he spends two hours more there than he needs because he is five minutes with each” of the many departments, Vasseur said. “This is the nonvisible part of the job, and for me, it is so important.”
Despite the bad results over the past few races, Bottas is unconcerned.
“Let’s say we had only scored 20 points by now, even that would not have been a big disappointment because we’re aiming for long term, not just short-term success,” Bottas said. “That would be just the starting point.
“So our starting point this season is better than we thought.”
Hamilton, who won the GP2 title with ART Grand Prix in 2006 when Vasseur was in charge, said Alfa Romeo “has a lot of potential.”
“I know how capable Fred is of doing a great job,” Hamilton said. “They’ve got a great infrastructure, both of the drivers are doing really well given the challenges that we all have with our cars, and I’m excited about their future.”