Valtteri Bottas comes of age after Austria podium
Valtteri Bottas enjoyed a throughly competitive Austrian Grand Prix weekend around the revamped Red Bull Ring, after the Finnish ace stormed to his maiden front-row grid position and then his maiden podium finish. Whilst team-mate Felipe Massa faltered somewhat during the race, Bottas managed to take the fight to the Mercedes duo.
Since making his Formula One debut last season with the Grove-based outfit, Valtteri Bottas has quickly improved to become a definite star of the future and Finland’s next big hope of success. After a colourful and competitive career in the lower categories, which culminated with Championship glory in the GP3 Series in 2011 with Lotus ART, Valtteri Bottas elected for a more unconventional route to F1 by graduating straight through to the Williams reserve driver role and therefore missing out on the traditional step up to the GP2 Series.
Whilst former GP3 Championship rivals James Calado and Nigel Melker graduated as expected to the GP2 Series and enjoyed relative success with the likes of Lotus GP and Ocean Racing Technology, Bottas was already obtaining valuable time behind the wheel of Formula One machinery as he partook in practice sessions at Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Spain, Europe, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Korea, India and Abu Dhabi. These vital 90 minute sessions for the Finn prepared him for all his all-important graduation from reserve driver to full-time driver for the following season, and also allowed him to learn several tracks which he had not yet visited such as Sepang in Malaysia and Suzuka in Japan.
After a relatively successful 2012 season for Williams, which saw the Grove-based outfit finally return to their winning ways for the first time since 2004, high expectations were firmly placed on the team’s shoulders for the 2013 season with Bottas replacing Bruno Senna and partnering race winner Pastor Maldonado. However, for Williams the 2013 season was a case of one step forward and two steps back as they returned to their frustrating uncompetitiveness of the 2011 season.
Despite enduring such poor results in both qualifying and the race once again, Valtteri still managed to shine alongside his vastly experienced team-mate. His first major walk into the limelight came during qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix in slightly inclement weather conditions, where the Finn managed to qualify an amazing third behind only Lewis Hamilton and eventual World Champion Sebastian Vettel – and a whole ten places ahead of Pastor Maldonado. Although Bottas immediately plummeted through the order at the start of the race, such was the uncompetitiveness of the Williams car, the Finn had successfully shown his capabilities despite only starting in his seventh race in Formula One.
As the 2013 season progressed Williams marginally managed to improve, with Pastor Maldonado eventually managing to secure the team’s first points of the season with tenth at the Hungarian Grand Prix. During the latter stages of the season, Bottas shone once again around the Circuit of the Americas at the United States Grand Prix by qualifying ninth and eventually finishing a very competitive eighth. Although he ended the season in Sao Paulo with a controversial collision with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, the Nastola-born ace still managed to end the season ahead of team-mate Pastor Maldonado in the Championship standings.
For the new season and the introduction of a new breed of cars, Bottas was joined by former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa as Pastor Maldonado joined Lotus and Williams terminated its partnership with Renault power and joined forces with German marque Mercedes. From the opening day of winter testing, Williams immediately looked competitive with their new engine manufacturer clearly benefitting them as the Renault-powered teams instantly struggled. Despite the instant expectation of competitiveness from the Williams duo, they failed to immediately deliver with only a handful of points secured during the opening few races of the season in comparison to the likes of Force India and Red Bull.
However, when the sport returned to Austria for the first time since 2003, Williams immediately looked to be on the pace with both Massa and Bottas questioning the expected dominance of the Mercedes duo. After Valtteri ended the third and final practice session fastest, many were expecting a close fight for supremacy in the all-important qualifying hour. However, no-one was predicting a Williams front-row lock-out as both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton came unstuck around the Red Bull Ring. Although Felipe Massa romped to pole position, his first since 2008, Valtteri Bottas still managed to qualify a highly respectable second and therefore secured his maiden front-row start in F1.
As expected the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton managed to glide through the pack to secure yet another sensational one-two finish during the race, however Bottas made their afternoon slightly more strenuous than predicted with the Finn eventually finishing a close third and therefore becoming the seventh Finnish driver to finish on the podium. With Bottas finally stepping onto the podium and Williams finally being able to translate their competitiveness into a respectable result, one would expect Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa to repeat their successes as the season continues throughout Europe and then heads back to Asia.
For Valtteri, however, the Austrian Grand Prix marked an important milestone in his career with his maiden podium finish. The next milestone is naturally his maiden pole position and then race victory, which all look relatively attainable should Williams once again manage to catch Mercedes napping such as qualifying at Austria and even their rare bout of technical strife in Canada. One thing that is for certain is that Finland has produced yet another star in Formula One, who undoubtedly has the potential to shine even more in the years to come.
Picture(s) Copyright © Williams F1 Team & Octane Photographic