Despite the various roadblocks, the 2020 season will always be remembered fondly by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team. Not only did they become the first team in the history of F1 to win seven consecutive World Constructor Championships, Mercedes-AMG F1 team’s championship-winning W11 this year is also arguably one of the most dominant Formula 1 car to ever have graced the sport – achieving 12 front-row lock-outs across 17 races.
The success of the team is further bolstered by Lewis Hamilton’s seventh World Championship title, equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time record – but you’d be amiss to think that all of these achievements are based on individual brilliance either.
As they always say, behind every successful man is a strong woman, and behind every successful racing driver is a hard-working team, from co-drivers to the janitors. As for Mercedes, their team spans from the two drivers and race engineers by the trackside, all the way to the guys working behind the scenes at Petronas’ laboratories and the team’s factory in Brackley.
Thanks to the brilliant people over at Petronas, we had the distinct pleasure of speaking to some of these key team players – including driver Valtteri Bottas in today’s entry, who is an integral part to the team’s recent success.
The Number 77 Finn is without a doubt a true title contender in his own right, with performances that often matched – if not exceeded – that of his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, a string of rotten luck and poor performances meant that Bottas can only settle for second once again, this year.
In this 15-minute roundtable session alongside the regional media outlets, we got the chance to learn a little more about what makes him tick, from how it’s like being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate, to his own race car collection.
The full interview transcript is below the break.
How important is Petronas’ contribution to the team’s record-breaking seven consecutive world championship title?
The relationship between Mercedes and Petronas has been ongoing for over a decade. It’s been a long journey and a successful journey so far. I have no doubt in the future it can be as well.
I always think about the fluids in the car that Petronas provides as the blood of the heart – and engine is always the heart – so it’s been super important in terms of performance and reliability. That’s something that our team is well known for – in terms of reliability and obviously performance as well – as you can see from the results.
So this ongoing push for the technology from the fluid side, working together, has been definitely a big part of the success of the team in the last past years.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to speak to Petronas’ trackside fluid engineers about the length that they go to in order to extract the most from the car. As a driver how does that help you prepare for the races, and get all the performance out of the W11?
Yeah, we have some Petronas fluid engineers at every single Grand Prix, and they are basically making sure that everything is functioning well – taking samples and detecting if there are any risks with any particular part of the car, and there are no extra [impurities] in the fluids post-session; so they can detect if something is about to go wrong.
Having them there, and chatting with them every now and then, just gives me the confidence that everything is under control, and trust that the car is going to see the chequered flag in every race.
They are doing their job, and they’re really busy with that, and I’m also busy with my work – obviously driving, but also the engineering work between my performance and race engineer – so we’re doing different things, but it gives me the confidence to race at the full performance knowing that there’s nothing to worry about, basically.
Finland has such a rich history in Formula 1, with drivers like Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen, and obviously yourself. Why do you think your country has such a strong representation and has such strong success in the sport, and who was your childhood hero?
I think in Finland – at least for me – the big thing was that we as young kids doing go-karting, there were always heroes and people that we look up to. For me, it was Mika Hakkinen, clearly. Having had the accident in ‘95 in Adelaide, and then recovering from that and becoming a double world champion, it was something that was super inspiring for me. So I think that made me push even further and work hard to become a driver one day.
In Finland, Motorsport is really important in the culture. Anything with an engine, there’s always a racing series for it. Maybe some of the series are not that well known, but whether it’s on two wheels or four wheels there are lots of categories [for them].
The level of go-karting is really good – although we can only race in the summer because in winter it’s more difficult with the snow! (laughs) But yeah, the level is really, really high, so that brings up the competition from a young age.
I believe the mentality of the Finns is really good for the sport because we need to be able to stay calm no matter what in this sport no matter what. That kind of mental determination that I think we have as a nation is only a bonus for any sport – for sure for motorsport as well.
What is actually more popular in Finland – Formula 1 drivers or some of the drivers that compete in other leagues such as ice racing that is very popular in your country?
I believe, it’s still the Formula 1 drivers, in terms of their following and TV numbers; Formula 1 is still the most followed motorsport in Finland. But I think the most popular, if I’m not wrong, is ice hockey, overall as a sport. It’s a big passion for the Finns, and also for me as a kid. Other winter sports as well, like cross-country skiing and ski jumping is also big [in Finland].
They do have some nice ice racing series, and actually I am lining myself up to do the Arctic Rally in Lapland in January, I think 15-16 January if it goes on, which for the moment it is. I’m planning to do that with a WRC car, and it will be my third time doing that rally, good fun.
Being in Mercedes is a bit of a double-edged sword; it puts you in a position to win races and maybe championships, but it also puts you in direct comparison to Lewis Hamilton. You get a lot of comments such as “it’s all about the car” and “other people can also beat Lewis Hamilton if they had the same car”, what are your thoughts about this?
I’m really proud to be a team member of this team. We’ve been able to make history in recent years, and with all the success we had together and the opportunities provided, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Being against Lewis, it’s a great motivation; in terms of numbers, he’s the most successful racing driver in F1 history, so it’s a great motivation to try to be better than him. It’s not easy – I’ve had many defeats, but also I’ve had wins. And with statistics – in terms of pure pace – I’m getting closer and closer, so it definitely keeps me going on.
I wouldn’t want anything in the easy way, so I don’t see that as a negative thing. For sure, people are always going to compare, that’s the nature of this sport, and that’s what it is, but that’s only going to motivate me.
Does it change your mentality in the races itself (being matched against Hamilton) – perhaps make you push a bit harder, or choose a different strategy in the race? And what will you be doing – or changing – to mount a bigger challenge next year?
Being against Lewis, for sure it’s mentally draining, because you have to always be at a 100% and try to be at my best capability every single race week, but I believe that is the same for every single driver if they want to perform at their very best.
It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s also very rewarding when I get the results – when I get to be on top of my game and be better than Lewis. The feeling, the reward from that always feeds into more motivation to be better. Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t have anything easy. I want to earn it – the results – and I will give everything I’m able to do that. For me, I am in a good situation.
For the future, like next year, it’s not about big things. If you break every single race week down, it’s the small things that I have to perfect. There’s no one particular area, it’s more of the small things here and there that I will have to nail every single race week.
I know I have it in me because I have been able to win races, so it’s about getting the small things together and just build on this year. I’ve been able to progress each year, so I need to keep doing that, keep working hard and eventually, the hard work will pay off.
It’s safe to say that your team has outclassed every other team this season. What is the key to the success behind the team’s performance?
There’s no one thing, it’s multiple things in the team that makes up the performance. For sure the partnership with Petronas definitely made a big difference. Because of them we’ve been definitely one of the most – if not the most – reliable team over the years, and we’ve been always collecting the points when others have failed, basically. I think it’s the consistency in the team.
It’s not always easy to stay at the top because all the other teams have a clear goal of trying to chase us, and trying to beat us. But for us, we need to make our own goals and our own targets to meet if we want to stay on top.
I think in the recent years, the key is that we’ve been really setting clear targets, realistic but brave targets, for all the departments of the factory and every single team personnel – and going for that together, super united, and being supportive and honest at making mistakes, and learning from mistakes.
There’s so much talent in this team, both in the race team and in the factory, and it’s the quality of the people and the motivation of the people that is bringing these amazing results that we’ve been getting lately. Even for me it’s really motivating to watch and follow the drive that the team has.
It’s very much a mental mindset, that we’re willing to do whatever it takes to be the best, and that applies to every team member.
Albert park is going to be resurfaced after next year’s race, with changes to radius and surface to improve the racing. What do you think – as a driver – could or should be done to Albert Park to help bolster some of the overtaking opportunities that just aren’t there at the moment?
First of all, it’s already a great track, so I don’t see a really massive need to change anything. I think the bumps on the surface of the circuit actually brings a bit of character.
Every track is unique in its own way, and I’ve always been a big fan of the track in Melbourne, but it is true that the overtaking is super tricky because the track is super narrow, and there are not that many corners that are good for doing good attacks under braking and overtaking.
It’s not rocket science when it comes to changing a track to improve overtaking; it’s basically extending some of the straights and making sure that after the straights is a rather big braking zone and a big wider track, that can make racing better.
But to be honest, I think that with the new regulation changes coming in 2022 – at least in theory – the racing should be a lot better so hopefully that will fix the issue, and we don’t have to change the tracks. And the resurfacing, I hope they don’t remove all the bumps, it would be nice to keep some character (laughs).
Do you own any of your former Formula 1 cars, or any of the cars from your junior career? And would you wish to build a bit of a collection when you finish racing to look back on, or do you see the cars as the tools of your job, and it’s the success and achievements that you scored within them that you take away?
I’ve actually been chasing for my first go-kart that I started racing with, but still no success. I don’t know where it is, but it will be a nice memory, you know, where it all started. Eventually one day, it would be nice to have something where it all ended.
I actually have one car, the 2014 Williams [FW36] car that I had my first podium in at Austria. That season with Williams in 2014 was really successful and the team felt like they wanted to compensate me more at the end of the year, so they gave me the car as a gift.
That’s now in a secret place, where hopefully one day I can build a bigger collection (laughs). So yes, absolutely, it might be expensive to get all the cars, but if there’s a way, it would be nice to have some memories.
It’s tight between yourself and Max Verstappen in the championship. How important is second in the championship, or does it not matter because it’s not first?
For sure it’s not first, so yeah, it’s not quite as important, but I’d still rather be second. I always push forward every season trying to get maximum points and finish as high as possible, and I feel our team would deserve being 1-2 in the championship. With the car we have this year, I think it would be a shame if I was third (laughs). So yeah, definitely still pushing for that.
It’s still pretty close, and especially with the bad race I had last weekend [Bahrain] and the weekend before, Max is pretty close in the points so that should be interesting – last two races in the season. The Red Bull in Max’s hands doesn’t look too shabby, so it could be an interesting couple of races.
[This interview took place right before the Sakhir Grand Prix, which due to a string of unfortunate circumstances, saw Bottas finish the race in seventh position. Max Verstappen retired from the race that weekend due to a collision with Charles Leclerc on lap 1.
Max Verstappen managed to win the following race, coincidentally the last race of the season. However, the points from his race win was not sufficient to overtake Valtteri Bottas (who finished second) in the championship standings. The season concluded with Lewis Hamilton winning his seventh WDC title, with Bottas in second, and Max Verstappen in third.
We were also originally scheduled to have a roundtable session with Lewis Hamilton, but he unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19 just hours before the interview was scheduled to take place. Toto Wolff is coming up next, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!]