After five years with Mercedes as a teammate to Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas joined Alfa Romeo to replace Kimi Raikkonen in 2022. As the season draws to a close and Formula 1 comes to America for the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas with four rounds remaining, he reflected on his role as a mentor to a new driver on the circuit and in guiding the team to another level.
“It’s been quite natural,” Bottas told NBC Sports ahead of the weekend activities. “It was always going to be at some point in my career that I’m the older guy in the team.
“Teaming up with [Guanyu Zhou] has been pretty natural for him to ask for advice. I try to help him where I can. I think we’ve been working really well together. For me it’s been nice to be in the role of being the more experienced driver and to have a bit of a bigger say in the team when it comes to certain technical things.”
Bottas will close out the 2022 season with his 200th start in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, making him just the 21st driver to achieve that goal and placing him fifth among active drivers.
Ten wins and 67 podium finishes ensure Bottas has a place in the record books, but even though he is not competing for a sixth consecutive top-five finish in the Drivers’ Championship, the challenges this season are no less meaningful. Bottas currently sits 10th in the standings, 19 behind Fernando Alonso and 14 ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
A rough offseason of testing created modest expectations for Bottas and Alfa Romeo.
“It took a little time, but we had the whole winter to prepare,” Bottas said. “I would say [there was] less pressure [than expected], because when I joined the team, the aim was to be successful in the years to come and not overnight. It wasn’t urgent.
“It feels like there’s a nice working pace in a way. It’s a less pressure environment. We’re aiming to be good in the long term. Obviously in this sport there is always some. It feels like nowadays maybe it’s from my side because I want to succeed.”
Bottas was responsible for lifting much of the pressure off his own shoulders. He earned points in seven of the first nine rounds of 2022. One of the races in which he failed to score points for Alfa Romeo ended in the garage with overheating issues in Saudi Arabia. He finished outside the points by one position in Azerbaijan.
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“The start of the year was really strong,” Bottas said. “I think we were even a little surprised by the performance, because we had a pretty difficult winter as far as testing. It didn’t go as smoothly as we were hoping. Then being able to consistently score big points was great and a bit surprising.
“But then as the season has been going forward, we’ve faced quite a few issues with reliability, some from our side, some from the engine manufacturer side. We’ve also had a few unlucky races.
“It feels like we’re now getting closer again, we got some new updates in the race in Japan two weeks ago. The weather was pretty crazy on Sunday It wasn’t really representative of us, but we were pretty close in qualifying, in the top 10 again, and then again here with some further improvements to the car I think we’re going to be in the mix again.”
Bottas and Alfa Romeo have not scored points since the Canadian GP in June, but he came close twice with 11th-place finishes, including two rounds ago in the Singapore GP.
“In F1 you have to always be focused on the [individual] driver as well,” Bottas said. “Personally, I always want to perform at the highest level and be the best that I can. But at the same time, it is a project for us to get closer to the top over the years. There’s definitely a higher focus on the team performance now than the individual.”
More encouragingly, COTA has been a great track for him. Bottas won the 2019 United States GP and has results of sixth or better in his last four starts there. Add a pair of top-10s in his first two attempts and expectations are high.