From the shadow of Lewis Hamilton: Valtteri Bottas within the Alfa Romeo captain and driver

Updated on 07/06/2022 2:39 PM

  • At Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton has always been overshadowed by Valtteri Bottas.
  • In terms of sports, he could not surpass the Briton, Bottas was the second classic in the team.
  • But since moving to Alfa Romeo, the Finn has really thrived.

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Valtteri Bottas has never hidden that the term has hurt him. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said at the end of July 2018, he was the “perfect winger” for Lewis Hamilton. He summed up the bitter situation of Finn in the Silver Arrows in a few words. Because Bottas was the classic second man, water carrier, assistant captain Hamilton. An above average driver, but not consistent enough to challenge Hamilton’s best long-term dog. The fact that his boss actually meant it as a compliment didn’t make it any better for Bottas.

Because no matter how much Bottas tried, he couldn’t get rid of the “Wingman” character. Also because he was still unable to support his ambitions with results on the right track. In five years at Mercedes, Hamilton is four times world champion, Bottas himself two times runner-up, two times third and five times. After the 2021 season, it’s time for a change – to Alfa Romeo.

Change is a bold move

A bold move, after all, the traditional racing team achieved a total of 21 points in 2020 and 2021 and finished eighth and ninth in the constructors’ championship. The hope was that the team would be able to compete again with the new 2022 car and that Bottas would be an important support on the way there. The math has worked so far: for Bottas, change is a stroke of luck, a kind of fresh start. In the same way, Alfa Romeo is benefiting from the input of the 32-year-old, who can now contribute and exploit all his experience. Also when working with fellow rookie Guanyu Zhou, who still has teething issues.

“I am so happy that I can try to be the best version of myself and ride the way I want to,” Bottas said. “The atmosphere in the team is very motivating – the people, how hard it is to try, and that’s very inspiring for me as well. I’m enjoying this journey.”

The appreciation is finally here

At Alfa Romeo, he has above all the support, safety and trust he has lost for years. He is wanted as a leader and has gratefully accepted the role. Bottas is appreciated as he has always wished. What was expressed, for example, in a long-term contract, at Mercedes, he was only allowed to sign for another year. Bottas reimburses this on several levels.

“The added value he brings to the team is basically outside the car,” says his team boss Frederic Vasseur. “It’s a fact that he’s always thinking about the team and not himself. He’s always trying to get the best out of the 500 people working in the factory,” Vasseur said.

Alfa Romeo has about 250 fewer people in the factory than direct competitors such as Williams or Alpine. Means: Everyone must bring more than 100 percent to catch up. With Bottas as driver, catalyst and leader.

Bottas effect is critical

“He thinks it has to be part of that drive,” Vasseur said. “It’s very difficult to measure in the lap times, but it’s critical. We have to be more responsive and efficient than other teams because we’re smaller. For me, that’s an added value that is very important.”

The result was amazing. After seven races, Bottas scored 40 points, Zhou scored one point. With 41 points, Alfa Romeo is fifth, ahead of teams such as Alpine and Alpha Torri or Aston Martin and Williams. “If we do our job well as a team, we come into the picture more often, attract new sponsors and get more budget that helps us in development,” Vasseur calculates: “This is the key to success. Bottas is able to get this message across to the people at the plant “.

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In the shadow of Lewis Hamilton

Wasser is not surprised by all this, he has known Bottas for 15 years and worked with the Finn before Formula 1. He knows that sometimes a few changes are enough to elicit more potential from the driver, even in his early thirties. In Bottas’ case, it was also a step to the side, to break out of Hamilton’s long shadow. “He’s always been dominated by Hamilton and I was convinced that when he was captain he would be a completely different man,” Vasseur said.

But Bottas is not dependent on what has already been accomplished. “There are still things that need improvement,” he said. The race starts, for example, or the car stabilizes. Bottas knows: “It’s not our limit, there must be more.” also from him. After all, he is the leader now.

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