Valtteri Bottas


Valtteri Bottas let it all hang out in the new season of Drive to Survive, with episode three being dedicated to his struggles to be recognised as more than Lewis Hamilton’s ‘wingman’. 


For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, look away now! There will be spoilers for the episode ahead. 


The full season launched on Netflix on Friday, and almost immediately Bottas was making headlines with the reveal that after Sochi 2018 and the team orders that cost him the win he seriously considered quitting F1. 


Toto Wolff vehemently denies that Valtteri is the team’s number two driver, and in fairness as a fan it does seem that the teammates are allowed to race each other on track, but the episode paints a fair amount of drama in the Mercedes garage. 


Pre-season, Valtteri tells the camera team that as a Finn he looks at the world a little differently than others, and that lone wolf mentality is emphasised by shots of him looking out over a still lake, chopping wood, and, of course, talking calmly about the upcoming season with his agent while buck-naked in a sauna. Yes, the internet is already full of screenshots of Bottas’s bare behind, and yes, Daniel Ricciardo is already making jokes on Twitter about it (‘Bottass’ indeed). 


Fast forward to Sochi and the 2020 Russian Grand Prix, where a win could mean record-matching victory for Lewis, putting him in the history books as the first driver to match Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 wins. There’s obviously a lot of expectation, and tension. Valtteri points out to the cameras that Lewis Hamilton is a worldwide name, while far fewer people know the name Valtteri Bottas, while Toto identifies Lewis as an extrovert, and Valtteri as more of an introvert, coming across more awkwardly in interviews where he simply states ‘I just want to beat him’. 


The episode flashes back to 2018, where Toto gives Valtteri team orders to let Hamilton pass to take the lead and ultimately the race win. Fans at the time could see he wasn’t happy with the decision, and despite Lewis heaping praise on him in post-race interviews, it clearly didn’t make the Finn feel any better about the situation, admitting ‘I was pretty angry. Honestly, I was thinking why do I do this?’ 


Back in 2020 and qualifying at Sochi and Valtteri states clearly that he believes you can’t win from second on the grid, and that if he can’t get pole position, third is the place to be. He’s slow on his last qualifying lap, half a second behind Lewis, and - whether intentionally or not - he ends up giving Max Verstappen a tow down to turn one as the Red Bull started his hot lap. Max gets P2, and Valtteri is deliberately coy about whether that was tactics on his part, or just an honest mistake that worked out in his favour. 


It’s a refreshingly honest look into the mind of a driver who is no doubt one of the best in the world, and one we often don’t think about as playing war games with his team or other drivers. Valtteri flies under the radar, despite driving for the top performing team, and part of that is that - like fellow countryman Kimi Raikonnen - he’s quiet, direct, and self-contained, not going in for fanfare or mudslinging in interviews the way other drivers sometimes do. But fans shouldn’t mistake his quietness for passiveness - as is made clear in this episode, Valtteri can be a calculating tactician, and when he decides to put himself first, he will take no prisoners. 


However, at Sochi he is helped more than a little by a decision by Lewis and his team to do a practice pit start at the far end of the pitlane, leading to an investigation by the stewards, who announce mid-race that he will be served with a whopping ten second time penalty. Valtteri’s belief that P3 is better than P2 for the start of the race proves true, with him immediately passing Max and almost taking Lewis on turn one, but he runs wide and ends up sat behind Lewis until he is called into the pits to serve his penalty. 


It may be a somewhat lucky victory, but it’s still a victory, and Valtteri enjoys it, celebrating with a beer post-podium. The episode gives the impression that the team care more about Lewis’s ‘loss’ (and what a thing it is when second place is considered a loss!), but I do wonder if that’s some creative editing on the part of Netflix. 


What it all boils down to is that Valtteri Bottas does not consider himself anyone’s wingman, and is determined to take wins whenever he can - and if he’s not allowed to do that, then he may walk away. With Lewis Hamilton only signed on for one year at Mercedes, it will be interesting to see what this year means for Valtteri, and - should team orders come down the line again - how he will establish himself as an equal driver for the team.