Valtteri Bottas interview: F1 star talks cars, cycling and life during lockdown
Mercedes’s Finnish driver is an ambassador for luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen
For the majority of the year Valtteri Bottas gets to race Formula 1 cars around some of the world’s best circuits. But what does the Finn do when he’s not competing on the track?
We spoke with the Mercedes driver and IWC Schaffhausen ambassador to discuss his life away from F1, his time during lockdown and his Finnish origins.
The 31-year-old, who finished runner-up in last weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, is currently second in the 2020 F1 drivers’ standings behind Silver Arrows team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Here’s what he had to say...
Mental strength and handling pressure
“I’ve never had a mental coach. I’ve always found my own way to be ‘in the zone’ and focus on the things that matter. My mental preparation comes with the preparation that I do physically, ahead of a race weekend and of course between races too. Knowing I have done everything I can to be in my best physical shape gives me great peace of mind.
“In general, us Finnish people are pretty calm. In this sport you really need to be. You can’t get upset about small setbacks whether they are during the race or after. The Finnish word ‘sisu’ is a good way to describe proper willpower. It’s about never giving up and doing everything you can to achieve the goal you have set yourself. It’s a mindset really.
“In this sport, it is common to overthink things when you are under pressure. Your mind and body don’t work as they should. Basically, if you feel too much pressure, you try too hard. In the past, I have had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I’ve learned a lot throughout my career and now I know when it’s getting to the point when I’m trying too hard. I tell myself to enjoy the driving. I make sure I remember the pleasure I get out of it. That always works.”
Life during lockdown and other interests
“I used to go clay pigeon shooting a lot in the UK, especially during the winter months, but because of the present travel restrictions, I haven’t done any at all this year. I spent most of the lockdown in Finland where there weren’t as many restrictions [on movement], so I was able to drive, which is important. I was go-karting and rallying for a week. I was also in Lapland in the north enjoying winter sports and ski-doo [snowmobiling]. Then I went south to my lake house for a couple of months, where I followed a routine, just really training and driving a lot.
“My favourite off-track road is in my home town of Nastola. I remember racing and cycling along it as a kid, so it brings up nice memories. I tried my first go-kart when I was five and was racing when I was six, but other than that, it was the usual stuff [that kept me busy], like riding my bike and skateboarding. I was pretty wild as a child. I couldn’t really stay still. My parents told me that when I started go-karting it really calmed me down because finally I could put energy and focus into something.”
Life outside of F1
“I’ve been so fortunate in my life to have been able to experience so many nice things; all new experiences are always really cool. Outside of F1, a recent personal achievement was a 200km bike ride that I completed with my girlfriend during the lockdown. I’ve never cycled so far before, only just over 100km I’d say. We did it in just under seven hours from my lake house to the Russian border.”
Day-to-day cars and back-seat driving
“I own one car, a Mercedes-AMG GT S in blue, because blue is my favourite colour. Soon I’m hopefully getting the [Mercedes]-AMG One with the Formula 1 engine; it’s supposed to come next year, so I’ve been waiting for that. I think I’m a good back-seat driver, as long as it’s normal driving! Today, my coach drove me to the airport and I just sat back and chilled. If it’s full [throttle] driving or rallying though, then I’d never be in the passenger seat.”
Characteristics of Finns
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the Finns is that we don’t talk much, but once we are in a group we are comfortable with, then we can really talk a lot! It’s actually something my girlfriend noticed. She’s an Aussie and she also thought of us as pretty quiet [people] but once she saw me out with my best friends, she was like, ‘Whoa! What’s happening? You’re talking so much!’ Perhaps we are reserved in a way, but once we allow others to be close to us, we are friends forever and there is complete trust.”
Valtteri Bottas wears the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”, similar to the current 46.2mm edition below, with stainless steel case and radiant blue dial. The timepiece boasts an impressive 168-hour power reserve. £11,900; iwc.com