Questions & answers with Valtteri Bottas
"I started racing at the age of five"
How did you start in motor racing?
I started racing at the age of five when I drove a kart for the first time in Lahti in Finland at my local track. We were in the Lahti city area the summer before with my Dad and we saw signs for a kart race, so decided to go on the spur of the moment. We spent all day there watching the racing, and when it had all finished, I said to Dad that I really wanted to give it a go myself. Unfortunately I was a bit too short to reach the pedals, so Dad made me wait for a year, but he kept his promise. The following year, I had just one go and I was hooked. From there on, I bugged my Dad every day to go karting again and I just didn’t want to do anything else. In a way, it was complete coincidence that we stopped at the circuit that day as I had no other family connection or motivation to race. My father did recall that while I was watching my first race was the first and only time I sat still at that age, I was completely transfixed by what was happening on the track!
With such a commitment to racing at such a tender age, did you miss out on other things growing up?
Yes, it was a sacrifice in some senses, but that was perhaps more my parents view than mine because it was all I wanted to do. First things first!
It is a common question, but with your experience, why do you think Finland produces so many world class competition drivers in racing and rallying?
It must be something to do with the mentality here. It is to some degree driven by the hard winters and the difficult driving conditions, so you have to actively engage yourself to drive, you can’t simply get around on auto-pilot. That develops natural car control and perhaps it goes from there.
Who stands out for you as the foremost Finnish competition driver?
I suppose Mika Hakkinen. He was the guy achieving the results when I was growing up as a kid, so I was really a big fan of his. Incredibly, Mika is now involved in the management of my career together with Didier Coton and Toto Wolff. Since Mika, of course Finland has produced many Formula One stars such as Raikkonen and Kovalainen.
Aside from motor racing, what else do you think your homeland is notable for?
Well, we excel at many of the winter sports. When I was busy on the kart track, my school friends were pursuing all kinds of other traditional winter sports and for the same reason, we do quite well in these disciplines. Despite being a small population in quite a big landmass, it is perhaps surprising that our industries have such a presence in the world stage – companies like Wihuri, Kemppi and Nokia are very prominent.
What are your first memories of following motor racing on TV?
I started watching F1 seriously when Mika was racing for McLaren. You can never forget the iconic red and white livery of his car in those days. Things stick in your memory of course, like his terrible accident in ’95, but most of it was good stuff! I never got to an F1 race in those days unfortunately, but because of my busy racing career, I still have not solved this and I am yet to watch a Grand Prix as a spectator. Hopefully this will change soon!
And when did you first become aware of Williams?
Naturally if you follow Formula One, you cannot help but notice Williams who have had so many notable drivers and successes, so I was aware of Williams all my life really.
Having visited Williams now, what are your impressions of the team?
I have been so impressed coming here. The facilities are amazing, the place is immaculate and the level of activity especially because the new car is being built gives a real sense of the place being very dynamic. At a human level, though, it is a very friendly place, I guess because everyone in the company is focused on the same thing.
What are you plans for this year?
I am racing with ART in the Formula 3 Euroseries, and of course I will be defending my Masters title again. The Macau GP also features in my plans for this season. Of course I will also be spending as much time as possible in the factory, doing everything from simulator work for my racing to actually working in different departments in the company. This way I have a complete view of all the inputs into the process of designing and building the car. I will be at Williams pretty much every day except for the times when I am racing and because the programme is pretty intensive, it was part of the reason I decided to move to Oxford.
What is good about moving to the UK?
Well, it is easier for travel for all my Formula 3 races and most importantly, it means I am well connected to Williams. I have no idea what I will miss from home other than my friends and family back in Finland, of course.
When do you expect to behind the wheel of an F1 car?
Well, in the simulator of course! But aside from that, there are the young driver tests in the schedule this year and who knows if I might get another opportunity. We will see.
What are your aspirations for Formula Three this season?
Last year I was a rookie and I finished third, so this year I must aim for the win. It is also really important for me to retain my Masters title. This would maintain the momentum that I have achieved so far during my career.