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Reaching my F1 prime - Exclusive Valtteri Bottas Q&A

15 Sep 2016

With most top drivers having already confirmed their 2017 plans, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas is a man very much in the spotlight heading to Singapore this weekend. Will the Finn stay put for next season? Or will he look elsewhere in a bid to land the title which so many in the paddock believe his talents deserve? One thing is certain - Bottas is confident that his F1 career will remain on the right trajectory…

Q: Valtteri, the ground is beginning to settle concerning the 2017 driver market. Where will we find you next season?

Valtteri Bottas: To be honest, I can’t say that much at this stage. These are all pretty confidential discussions with the teams. Funnily enough, though, yes it takes time, but I am pretty pleased with how things are developing. But there is still nothing to be announced yet - only when the team that I will be racing for is sure about both drivers, and so on and so forth.

Q: Then let’s look at it from the other side. It looks pretty certain that there are only two decent seats available: yours at Williams and one at Force India. So it’s either you stay where you are, or you move to Force India. Is that the situation?

VB: Not exactly, actually. But I can’t say more.

Q: Aged 27 as you are, a driver surely starts to give some thought to his career development - especially when 18-year-olds start winning! Are you in a ‘thoughtful’ phase right now?

VB: For sure it is the time to think about my career development. 2016 is my fourth season with Williams - that is a long time. And, of course, I am very interested in my own career and I have still to achieve the things I want to achieve. But I feel I still do have time and that I am getting to a kind of prime age in Formula One - that’s at least how I feel. I think I am still getting better with every year, but, of course, as a driver you want to fight for the championship - and nothing else will do in the long run. So you have to make decisions for that - to try to one day be in the best possible car!

Q: But is there any thought that time is ticking for you?

VB: Time in F1 is always ticking! (Laughs) But I am not worried about that. I still feel that I have many, many years to come to get even more competitive than I am now. So no worry, but being prepared to wait.

Q: As you mentioned, 2016 is your fourth season with Williams. In just your second season you finished fourth in the standings, but since then it’s been dropping and right now you are in P7. This looks like a team problem rather than a driver problem - what is the problem?

VB: In a nutshell, our car is not quick enough. There are a few reasons. One is that in the past winters - 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 - other teams managed to out-develop us. They were able to make bigger gains. This season we’ve been bringing upgrades that didn’t deliver all the potential that we thought they would. We did invest quite a lot of time and money in particular pieces that we’ve put on the car that didn’t work out. And that was the moment when Force India caught up, and Ferrari and Red Bull are now very clearly ahead. And it is no secret that we have had issues with the tyres.

Q: Is that why Williams have recently hired a tyre specialist previously with Ferrari? Will that be the answer to your prayers?

VB: Let’s wait and see. We are addressing the issue. Will it answer my prayers? Hopefully. But if you are starting already a season behind, it is never easy.

Q: As the likes of Jenson Button and Felipe Massa depart Formula One racing, teams seem to be obsessed with finding teenage sensations to fill their seats – rather than turning to the likes of you, Nico Hulkenberg or Romain Grosjean. Are you the lost F1 generation - hugely talented but somehow stuck?

VB: Oh, I hope not. And believe me, it is not my intention at all. Yes, it is true that there are very young and very talented drivers in F1 right now - and, yes, drivers are getting younger and younger. The average driver age is dropping.

Q: But aren’t you worried about that - that at the age of 28 or 29 you could be pushed out to make way for a youngster?

VB: No, absolutely not. I am very confident about my possibilities and my opportunities. They are still massively ahead. So I focus on my job.

Q: So no fear of teenagers?

VB: Ha, no!

Q: You could also argue there is a trend towards drivers with very visible - or audible - media profiles: the likes of Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen. You are the opposite of that: very quiet and pretty low profile. Do you have to rethink the marketing strategy for the product that is Valtteri Bottas?

VB: Well, I am who I am and I see no reason to play a role, neither on nor off track. My driving style speaks for me and I am the person that I am. My focus has always been to get the maximum for the team and I would imagine that every single team would appreciate that! (Laughs)

Q: Whatever happens in 2017, one thing is for sure: you will have a new team mate. What’s your thoughts on what midfield teams need in terms of drivers? Can midfield teams afford to take risks on rookies?

VB: My guess is that a [midfield] team can get on with a rookie. But for sure as a driver you always want a quick team mate, as it also helps you - it boosts your own performance. But that doesn’t speak against a rookie. Just take Max (Verstappen) for example. That shows that it can work - but he needs to be talented. So whoever my team mate is going to be, I hope he is quick. And I hope he will be a team player - that is very important if you want to go forward with the team.

Q: Your immediate challenger in the standings is Force India’s Sergio Perez. Your deputy team principal Claire Williams hinted that he could be a good match for Williams. Is that fact making the battle between him and you even sweeter?

VB: There are always battles in F1 - with your team mate, with who is going to which team, who is taking a cockpit. It is a battle on track and off track – always. I think that’s cool. Right now, coming back to your first question about my whereabouts in 2017, I can assure you that I will be in F1 and that I am very pleased with how things are developing. So all I have to do is to confirm which team it will be! (Laughs)

Q: Singapore is a challenging street circuit, like Monaco and Baku. But on which track is the concentration level, the exhaustion level and the satisfaction level the highest?

VB: Singapore by far is the most physical track - here you have the highest exhaustion level. In regards to the concentration level, both Singapore and Monaco are pretty even - maybe with Monaco a bit higher as the circuit is shorter. Satisfaction level? Monaco, I must say - but then that’s a question of results! (Laughs)