Thursday 18 January 2018

Ice-cool Bottas comes of age

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas celebrates on the podium after the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom. Photo: Getty Images
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas celebrates on the podium after the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom. Photo: Getty Images

Oliver Brown

When the snow piled high in drifts around Valtteri Bottas' hometown of Nastola, he would learn that quintessential Finnish skill of driving fearlessly on ice.

It has served him well, this resolution not to be cowed by anything or anybody as soon as he clasps a steering wheel.

The received wisdom was that he would struggle to be more than Lewis Hamilton's understudy at Mercedes this season, but here by the Black Sea he scotched such theories with a rousing display of his racing pedigree, slipstreaming past both Ferraris before the first corner en route to his maiden victory in 81 grands prix.

The reaction was Nordic in its coolness. As his race engineer yelled himself hoarse, Bottas said simply: "F*** me, it has taken a while."

His personality, though, is one of hidden depths. Exuding far more warmth than his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen, he acknowledged that he felt pangs of emotion as the Finnish national anthem played out. Bottas' breakthrough adds a fascinating dimension to the title race, suggesting he could gatecrash the fight between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

Bottas surpassed Hamilton in every phase of the weekend in Sochi, outperforming his team-mate in all three practice sessions, qualifying and then a race that he led from his audacious manoeuvre off the start line, rounding the two Ferraris with one sweeping move. At this rate, he will have strong grounds to ask Toto Wolff for a greater show of faith in his abilities than a one-year contract.

Wolff, who used to be Bottas' manager, knows all about the steady qualities the 27-year-old can bring to the world champions. Three years of constant jousting between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had tested patience at Mercedes, but in Bottas they have a man about as likely to rock the boat as he is to raise his voice.

He is studious, scrupulous and unswerving in his concentration. During the final laps, he even asked his side of the garage not to communicate so that he could better manage a pair of front tyres that had developed a flat spot due to over-zealous braking.

For a crestfallen Hamilton, the inquest starts today. At no time in these three days did he look at ease with his car, asking throughout the first half of the race why it seemed to be hesitating and overheating. "It has been a tough weekend," he said. "I've never had cooling issues like that and I was out of the race from the get-go." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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