Valtteri Bottas has been Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes since 2017, but in that time has won just eight races to Hamilton’s 35. He has yet to take a title challenge until the final round and it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will do so this year. So what’s it really like being Hamilton’s teammate?
During the last block of races, ESPN caught up with Bottas over a conference call to discuss what it’s like to have one of the toughest jobs in F1.
Laurence Edmondson: A lot of people think you’re in the toughest job in Formula One because you are going up against six-time world champion. Do you see it that way?
Valtteri Bottas: Of course when you are in a top team everyone requires a lot from you, like I also require a lot from the people I work with. That mentality of the team is also to bring the results, so for sure it is not easy and everyone is put under pressure — but hopefully in a good way to perform better and find out more about yourself.
Against Lewis, yeah for sure, it’s a great challenge. If you look at his record he is pretty impressive and I know it’s tough to beat him, but I also know I can do it. Is it the toughest job in F1? I still get to be in the best car and have the opportunity every weekend to win the race — it’s there for me to get — so that’s why it makes it a bit easier. I don’t mind working hard for it because you know there is going to be a reward if it goes well. I think it’s a good place to be.
LE: When you have a good weekend we can see that you can beat him. Have you figured out what your strengths are over him?
VB: I think I’m very hungry for results and that makes me work hard with the team. I know he works hard as well, but I try to work harder. In my driving I am all the time making some really good steps forward with my driving style and pace, and especially race pace this year. It’s now about getting clean weekends.
It’s all about fine margins and getting those right. My strength is that I am willing to discover more and more and I feel like I am improving all the time and I am still peaking. Weaknesses? Lewis is a very complete driver and very consistent. His performance, I can’t point out one clear thing where I am losing out to him, but it is about getting things right where it matters.
LE: The relationship between you and Lewis seems so solid on and off the track, how has that come about? Is it down to ground rules set by the team or is there just a natural balance between the two of you where you give each other respect?
VB: I think we are both pretty respectful drivers and rarely unpredictable. I think there is good respect against each other and I think the way we both race is quite similar and it’s about the better man winning. You just need to be able to take the right risk to get the overtake or earn the possibility to overtake.
It comes pretty naturally, but obviously, yes, we had discussions as a team, especially in the first year in the team. There were certain things that we want to avoid happening like a first corner crash or first lap crashes. So we always have good respect but we are allowed to race hard. We need to respect each other but I’m sure if there is a shunt the team will be reacting very quickly to that.
LE: Do you think it would be the same relationship if you had were the one with such a big lead in the championship? After the first race when I won, did you see any change in him?
VB: I didn’t see any difference after the first race. Lewis showed good respect. He said I earned the win and it was no difference to the race that I won and the next race that he won, nothing changed.
I doubt nothing would change, because he knows the name of the game anyway. I am here to race fairly and hard, like him as well, so I really can’t see any issue, but obviously time will tell.
LE: You’ve signed another single year contract for 2021, can you explain why it’s always been single year contracts with Mercedes for you?
VB: Because I always have! It’s printed on the paper already! But of course, yes, if there was a long-term contract offered I would have gone for it. But the team again decided to go for that again and if that is everything they can offer then I take it.
By being with this team next year I know I will get half an opportunity to win the title and that is all that I need. Sometimes it’s good to look short-term and it can be good for long-term. If I want to win the title, this is the team to be it, so if it’s one year I’ll take it. It’s normal already, so it’s fine.
LE: Is it something you’ve got used to? Because the last driver to win the championship with a one-year contract was Jenson Button at Brawn in 2009, and obviously that was quite a unique situation. So is it a negative for a driver to be on a one-year contract while his teammate has multiple years?
VB: It’s really how you take it and how you deal with it. As I said, it’s becoming the norm for me, so I get used to it. On the other hand, yes, it would have been nice to get a long-term contract, but it’s the best I can get, so I take it. Of course, now I know for the next 10 or 11 months I don’t have to think about it, so that’s nice.
I can really focus on racing, and then eventually next year, yes, there will come a time when I have to think about it and you will have to again figure out your future. But that is at least 10 months away, so for now I don’t need to think about it.
LE: You had a lot of time to think about the new contract during the lockdown. Did it change at all what you decided you want from your career and did it change your mindset about your long-term career in Formula One?
VB: I really believe that extra time off gave me a few years more extra motivation and energy for Formula One. Obviously, since I started in 2013, the years go like this and you are racing non-stop and the winter breaks become shorter and shorter. Just having that extra time off and realising all the other things you can enjoy and do, that just gives you quite a bit of energy.
At the moment I feel like I am about to peak in terms of my performance, so I feel like I can still go quite long. But also during this unusual year, in those two or three months before we started to race, it was nice to realise there is other life than Formula One.
I’m a man who knows that simple things can make me really happy, so it was nice to see F1 is not everything in life, although it is still the main thing for me. But it was nice to see that there are things in the future that I will be very happy to do.
LE: Did that make you think that it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t win the championship in F1?
VB: No, for me winning is still everything and winning is important. But also I just realised that one day, eventually, when it is time to do something else than Formula One, I will be fine. It is nice to feel.