For those of you who follow a lot of Formula 1 drivers on social media, you’re likely to have noticed one of them in particular doing things a little differently this off-season.
Valtteri Bottas flew to Australia with his partner — the professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell — and fully embraced a certain aspect of the local culture.
Sporting a “VB” (for Victoria Bitter — the beer) vest, Bottas went and got a haircut in Melbourne that left him with a mullet that he says makes him feel like he fits in.
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) December 3, 2022
It’s certainly a look… But more than anything, it’s a sign of how much more comfortable Bottas feels now he’s an Alfa Romeo driver, embracing his downtime and doing things that he thinks will be fun without fearing criticism or feeling at all guilty.
It wasn’t always this way.
“I’ve done lots!” Bottas tells RACER. “Once COVID kind of went away, traveling got even easier now again, but I can say I’ve been living fully between the races as well! Of course I still work with the team — we do all the meetings and I go to the factory often — but then when I’m off I do lots of cool things.
“Previously I almost felt bad doing fun stuff, almost had a feeling that I’m not allowed to have fun! But as I’ve learned more about myself, I do way more things that I want to do instead of what I think I’m supposed to do. So I try to do things that give me good energy. I think part of it is for sure that I’ve learned about myself — I’m maybe a bit easier on myself and able to follow what I want to do.
“In the gap between Mexico and Brazil I stayed in Argentina in a few different places. Then when I got to Brazil I felt so fresh mentally because I’ve been doing other kinds of things. Even though the end of the year is hectic, a small break can make a huge difference, to me at least. When I get to the track then it’s all about racing and focusing fully on the weekend, but when it’s time off then it’s time off.”
You can’t fault the performances of Bottas on track, either. His first year with Alfa Romeo got off to an incredible start, regularly seeing him outqualifying the Mercedes car he had just vacated, as he started the season with sixth, retired, eighth, fifth, seventh and sixth.
After that, there was only one more top-seven finish — in Canada — and just three further point-scoring results as things tailed off. As Bottas reflects on the past 12 months, though, he has some highlights that stand out that weren’t necessarily on Sundays.
“I think the best qualifying was still Miami,” he reckons. “I was P5, I missed one or two sessions in practice and then still got to P5, that was like ‘Wow.’
“Of course you enjoy it more when the results are better — that’s how it goes. For sure it was getting a bit annoying when it was actually so many races that I didn’t score. It also hurts your confidence — it’s the same for the team — it’s not the same feeling for example if you’d been scoring five races in a row. But if you don’t score for 10 races it’s like, ‘What’s happening? Why can’t we do it again?’
“I think that’s why Mexico was a bit of a relief in a way; even if it was only one point, we definitely had the pace to be top 10 and the qualifying was really strong. I definitely got the confidence back and the team as well.”
That level of confidence has been clear to see. There were times at Mercedes that Bottas appeared to be struggling with the pressure that came with being alongside Lewis Hamilton in a team that was dominating, but at no point has he seemed that way in 2022, both on and off the track.
“Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it a lot and still enjoying it,” he says. “Especially the fact that we made some progress across the last couple of races it was a good feeling. Definitely a less pressurized environment, no doubt, because I had time to prepare myself and reset the goals and make targets.
“For the first year together I didn’t have huge expectations. It’s difficult to predict — especially after the winter testing — how it was going to be. So actually it’s been a really nice ride. It’s a different dynamic racing in the midfield for sure but I enjoy it a lot.
“Also having a bit more security in the seat and knowing we’re in this together for the long term takes a lot of the extra pressure off, you know? I think the future for this team also looks really exciting. A lot of things happening, so I definitely want to be part of it.”
That future includes Audi’s entry in 2026, and while Bottas is excited by the potential that brings, in the shorter term — amid Frederic Vasseur’s departure and Andreas Seidl’s arrival — he says there’s plenty of room for improvement as he sets firm goals given the platform this year has provided.
“We need to target things step by step. We finished sixth this year so next year needs to be at least fifth and that’s a very clear target. This mid-season dip let’s say that we had with the DNFs and also performance-wise not being that great, if we can get rid of that next year or at least make it less compared to other teams, that can already make a huge difference.”
Should he still be racing for the Sauber-run team when it becomes known as Audi in just over three years, Bottas will be one of the most experienced drivers on the grid. The potential for that to happen is a big turnaround from where Bottas was in 2018 — when he admits he had made the decision to walk away from F1 before deciding to return with Mercedes — but he has since regained his love for the sport and improved his own personal environment. Asked how long he plans to continue, Bottas responds in the same relaxed fashion as his new-found racing approach.
“I’m quite easy on myself, I don’t put too much pressure on,” he says. “If you ask me today and throughout the whole year, my feeling is I still have many years, for sure.
“I’m now 33, so if you look at Fernando (Alonso), maybe he’s an outlier but he’s performing great in his age, so I feel like I still have lots of time and lots to give this sport. I don’t have a deadline, myself — 40 sounds quite a lot but I’m still early-30s so no worries!”
Given the haircut he’s sporting this off-season Down Under, “no worries” is a mantra that Bottas is genuinely living by, and it’s working for him.