In a sport filled with fascinating personalities, Valtteri Bottas might be at the top of the list.
That personality comes through each race week, as Bottas brings some of the most incredible crash helmets to the grid. It is a personality that exploded through the screen with each appearance on Drive to Survive, and it is a personality that was on full display when Bottas won the summer shutdown, showing up at the SBT GRVL weekend in Steamboat Springs as Duff Man:
But like any other Formula 1 driver, there is one thing at the front of his mind. Winning.
For Bottas and Alfa Romeo, winning right now means one thing: Finishing in seventh in the Constructors’ Championship. Coming out of the summer break, Duff Man and the team pointed to seventh as their clear goal to finish out the 2023 F1 season.
At the time, Alfa Romeo was in ninth place in the Constructors’ with nine points on the year, putting them just two points behind Williams and Haas, who were tied with 11 points each.
However, that three-way battle has now turned into a four-way fight with AlphaTauri joining the fray, and with just two races left, Alfa Romeo has seen Williams pull away, and AlphaTauri leapfrog them in the standings. Williams has 28 points on the year, while AlphaTauri has 21.
Alfa Romeo remains in ninth, with 16 points.
SB Nation caught up with Bottas ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix to discuss his season to date, the inaugural race in Sin City, and his hopes for the future. However, the conversation began with a discussion of a difficult weekend for the team in São Paulo. Both Bottas and teammate Zhou Guanyu were in the fight during the São Paulo Grand Prix, and a double-points finish seemed possible for the team.
Then both drivers were forced to retire early, due to mechanical failures.
“Yeah, I think tough is the right word,” said Bottas when asked about Brazil. “Obviously really disappointing not to finish a race that was actually going quite, quite well.”
Still, there are positives that he and the team can take from their pace before the failures.
“So I think we can take away that we definitely made some progress throughout the weekend, and the pace we had on Sunday was way better than what we saw before, during the sprint race,” added Bottas. “It gives me confidence that we can score because it was actually pretty close to be true.”
Now Bottas and the rest of the team face a new challenge, the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. That means a new race, a new track, and a new spectacle for the sport.
“I’m sure it’s gonna be a big show,” said Bottas. “We have quite busy schedules, and the track itself looks really interesting for racing. I think there’s gonna be plenty of overtaking.”
The first challenge for Bottas, and the rest of the drivers, is learning a new circuit. That means plenty of hours in the simulator.
“So I’ve already done the [simulator] work, a few weeks ago at the factory,” added Bottas. “So I had a couple of days in the simulator and just really learning the layout of the track, even testing with different setups and just trying to get that idea: ‘What do you need from the car for that track?’ And also of course, memorizing the track layout.”
That simulator work has confirmed something else in Bottas’s mind.
Vegas is going to be fast.
Race promoters are promising high speeds, and Bottas shares that opinion.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Bottas when asked if Las Vegas was going to be a fast circuit.
“I think it’s going to be quite a low downforce track, [with] low drag settings. So it means it’s going to be really high speeds, and especially the longest straight on the calendar,” added Bottas. “So for sure, we’ll be hitting some good, good speeds, but that means obviously we have less grip in the corners, but I think that will make racing exciting.”
Something else that might make the racing exiting, but stressful for the drivers and teams? The weather. With temperatures expected to make Las Vegas perhaps the coldest race on the calendar, Bottas and the rest of the field will be fighting to get the tires in the right windows.
That could make for some nervy times during qualifying, and the race itself.
“Especially with long straights, you kind of start to lose that surface temperature of the tire and that can make the braking quite difficult, before you pick up the temperature again,” described Bottas when asked about racing in colder conditions.
Las Vegas also represents another step in F1’s push into the American market, and as a driver, Bottas can see the growth of the sport here in the United States. It is something that he, and the rest of the grid, certainly appreciates.
“I’ve definitely seen it,” said Bottas when asked about the growth of F1 in the United States. “And it’s very visible to me, in terms of how many fans there is nowadays from the US compared to, even five years ago, it’s a big step.”
From his perspective, there might be room for even more growth.
“We have three races in the US, maybe even more in the future, who knows?
“So it’s great to see because F1, the path they’ve taken with new ownership is obviously working. I would say the sport has become maybe a bit more of a show if you look at it from outside, but still from the driver’s point of view, when it’s race time, then it’s still that pure sport that it’s always been, and it’s all about racing. So I’m obviously happy wherethe sport is.”
There is also another benefit to the sport’s growth in the states, in his mind.
“It means I have also more supporters, which is kind of cool.”
Something those new supporters have been treated to this season? Bottas absolutely dominating — in at least this writer’s opinion — the custom helmet game. Just his season alone we have seen “Belgian Delights” ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, Lumberjack Valtteri before the Canadian Grand Prix, and “Bot Man” for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Bottas gets a big lift with these helmets from his partner Tiffany Cromwell, one of the world’s best bicycle racers.
With Las Vegas coming up, is another special helmet coming?
“Of course,” said Bottas.
The driver did not give much more away, and indicated that his special helmet would be coming at some point early this week.
The conversation then shifted to his, and Alfa Romeo’s, relationship with Hyland, a partner with both the driver and the team. Hyland offers “industry-leading technology” that matters for both Fortune 100 companies, and Alfa Romeo on the track. In a sport where every millisecond matters, and every “marginal gain” is critical, Hyland is a huge benefit to Bottas and Alfa Romeo.
“This sport is all about the marginal gains,” explained Bottas. “In this sport [data] is so critical because there’s so much information and data we get from the car. [A]s a driver, the telemetry we get and just being able to process that quickly, like in quali when we stop in the garage for two minutes, we need to really prioritize on what to look at, and how it’s all analyzed, and we really get, get big benefits in Hyland.”
Ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Bottas and PGA golfer Xander Schauffele, another Hyland partner, took part in a trivia contest that tested both athlete’s knowledge of innovation in their sports.
You can view that challenge here:
as Bottas surprised by his win? A little bit.
“Yeah, I was actually. I thought it was gonna be very close, but I got most of the questions right. And some might have been a little bit lucky,” described Bottas. “I’m very happy to take the win, but it gave me a good challenge.”
The conversation then turned to what lies ahead for Bottas, and the team. With two races left it is all to play for in the battle for seventh. In the driver’s mind, what is needed for Alfa Romeo to win that fight?
“We need to be perfect,” said Bottas. “We haven’t been perfect many times this year and that’s the thing it’s focusing on, on the small details. Trying to stay confident and believing that we can do it. And in this sport, lots of things can happen in the race, like we saw in São Paulo.
“So we only need, you know, one good result and then we can be a couple of steps higher in the Constructors. And as a team, it’s really important to finish high.”
Finishing high would be huge for Bottas and Alfa Romeo, not just for 2023, but for 2024 as well.
“I really hope we can finish the season on a high with a positive feeling, that would really help the confidence for everyone in the team leading up to next year,” said Bottas. “So it does make a difference and I hope it’s going to be a good, good end to the season.”
We’ll see if Bottas and Alfa Romeo can deliver that good end to the season starting this week, with the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.