The Next Big Finn

The Next Big Finn

RACER Magazine Excerpts

The Next Big Finn


Back from nowhere came Williams Racing in 2014, and spearheading the team’s resurgence was Valtteri Bottas, who regularly troubled the dominant factory Mercedes duo as Adam Cooper explains in this excerpt from The Champions Issue of RACER magazine, on sale now.

As a rookie in 2013, Valtteri Bottas finished 17th in the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship, earning four of the five points that Williams accumulated in a miserably uncompetitive campaign. This time around, he ended the season in fourth place, immediately ahead of multiple World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, having notched up 186 points.

The revival of Williams was one of the most extraordinary stories of the year. After plumbing the depths in 2013, the team underwent a radical transformation. A fresh new look, including classic Martini Racing stripes, was the outward manifestation. However, the keys were a restructuring of a tired technical organization by Pat Symonds, and the decision to abandon Renault and go with Mercedes, which could not have been better timed.

The team had the best power unit, but also made great strides in aerodynamics, its Achilles heel in recent seasons. The slippery FW36 was always fast in a straight line, but not to the ultimate detriment of cornering ability. Finally, Williams had a contender once more.

The team quickly usurped McLaren and Force India to become the predominant Mercedes customer outfit; by midseason, we were used to seeing the white cars on the second row of the grid. In Austria, it went one row better, with Felipe Massa actually beating the factory Mercedes cars to pole for the only time in 2014.

In terms of strategy and race weekend operations, Williams wasn’t always on the ball, with too many fumbles. Indeed, there were times when it seemed it could have put more pressure on Mercedes, but rebuilding the muscle memory of a truly competitive team takes time.

Throughout this re-learning curve, Bottas performed superbly in his sophomore season with the team. A string of podiums confirmed the Finn as the man who, along with Daniel Ricciardo, could be a major player in future iterations of the F1 driver market.

“For everyone in the team, I think it was a positive surprise in Melbourne when we saw how quick the car was,” recalls Bottas. “Of course, when we saw in testing where things were heading with the new regulations and new engine, and also our aero developments with the new car, we knew we were going to be better than in 2013. But it was nice to see that it turned out even better than expected.

“Melbourne was actually quite tough for me,” he adds. “I made a mistake and probably lost my first podium there. I learned from that, definitely. And as a team, I think we weren’t yet at the level of where the pace of the car was.

“But now we are just getting better and better and stronger in all areas. We’ve been much more consistent and able to turn the pace of the car into good results. That’s just by working hard, analyzing mistakes, and making sure we don’t repeat them. I don’t think we’ve repeated any mistakes this year, which is good.

“It was about a lot of things, setting up the car, getting the most out of the tires, the strategy. I made some mistakes myself in the beginning of the season. Even the pit stops, I think we improved a lot from the beginning of the season.”

But with a pragmatism that seems part of the Williams Racing DNA, Bottas accepts that the rebirth of the team as a competitive entity in 2014 wasn’t entirely down to internal factors.

“We know that if we didn’t have Mercedes this year, it would have been a much more difficult season,” he says. “Hopefully we can also keep that edge next year, which will be nice because it definitely helps us in races and at some tracks in particular. I think it’s normal that after a major change in regulations, it will start to get closer and closer, so that’s why we need to keep improving as a team. We can’t always rely on Mercedes to give us an edge. We can’t rest, we can’t stop developing things, otherwise there’s always someone who will be faster than us. We have to keep learning and making steps forward.”

The Finn really hit his stride in Austria, where he took third place and his first F1 podium. He was second in the next two races, Britain and Germany, and third again in Belgium, Russia and Abu Dhabi, delivering six of Williams’ nine podiums.

“The first podium in Austria was really special of course,” he says, “and Germany was really nice when I managed to keep Lewis Hamilton behind to the end, defending against him.

“In Austria, if we’d been a bit more aggressive we could possibly have made it a bit more difficult for Mercedes, for sure. But we’ve gained a lot of confidence since then, and if we have the pace like that in the future we’re a much stronger team now, so I think we can do better. Personally I feel that, except for Melbourne, in most races I got the most out of the car, so that’s good.”

Singapore – where Bottas encountered a strange steering problem that ruined his front tires, and meant he got freight trained by the chasing pack on the last lap – he describes as his biggest disappointment of the season.

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