“Valtteri is quite simply one of the most talented young racing drivers I have come across and we expect great things from him in the future.” These were the words of Sir Frank Williams as he announced the young man from Nastola in southern Finland as a Williams race driver for the 2013 season. Williams’ expectations were high, but Bottas did not disappoint.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Bottas’ motor racing career began early - he was just six years old when he first stepped into a go-kart and over the next 11 years he won numerous championships in his homeland and Europe. He made the jump into cars in 2007, coming third in his debut season in the Formula Renault 2.0 North European Cup. The following year Bottas dominated the same series and also scooped the Eurocup title, finishing the season with the enviable record of 17 wins from 28 starts.
With his talent blossoming, Bottas picked up backing and management from future Williams director (and now Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief) Toto Wolff, two-time F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen (his childhood idol), and Didier Coton (Hakkinen’s long-time manager).
Graduating to the competitive F3 Euro Series in 2009, Bottas performed admirably, winning the prestigious Masters event at Zandvoort and finishing third overall. The following season he replicated these two feats, becoming the first double winner of the Masters. 2010 also saw him begin his relationship with Williams, as he joined the team as test driver.
For 2011 Bottas moved on to the GP3 Series, staying with ART Grand Prix, the team he raced with in Formula Three. It was to be a wise move as he swept to the title, picking up four wins along the way. He continued to test for Williams, impressing the team with his speed and maturity, and in 2012 he replaced regular driver Bruno Senna for 15 Friday practice sessions, often outperforming team mate Pastor Maldonado on comparable programmes.
In December 2012 Williams announced that Bottas would be promoted to a race seat alongside Maldonado in 2013. “It feels incredible to be driving in Formula One next season and to be with a team like Williams, with all its pedigree, is even more special,” said Bottas. “I want to look back on 2013 and feel that I’ve improved as a driver and helped the team improve its performance on the track.”
Sure enough, from the off Bottas’s speed compared favourably to the more experienced Maldonado's. The FW35's lack of pace made proving his talent hard, but his P3 grid slot in Canada was superb and his first points finally came with eighth place in the USA. Not only that, he beat Maldonado in the final standings and was retained by Williams for 2014, when the team’s move to Mercedes power helped them return to the front of the grid.
Bottas took full advantage of Williams’ renaissance, securing six podiums en route to fourth in the driver standings, three places and more than 50 points clear of his new, but far more experienced team mate Felipe Massa.
The Finn outscored his team mate again in 2015, despite missing the first race of the season with a back injury, though Williams’ relative dip in form saw him only make it back to the podium twice. Even so, he pushed better-equipped countryman Kimi Raikkonen all the way in the battle for fourth in the drivers’ standings, only losing out to the Ferrari driver at the final round.
In 2016 Bottas landed Williams' only podium finish of the season in Canada, as the team’s performance continued to fade and they dropped to fifth in the standings behind Force India. Nevertheless, he once again comprehensively outgunned veteran team mate Felipe Massa, scoring 85 points to the Brazilian's 53.
It thus came as little surprise when Bottas was Mercedes' first choice to replace outgoing world champion Nico Rosberg, and after negotiating his release from Williams, the Silver Arrows announced him as Lewis Hamilton's new team mate for the 2017 season, presenting him with best chance yet of fighting for Grand Prix wins.