If you follow Valtteri Bottas on social media, chances are you’ve seen a lot of him over the past 18 months.
Very from him.
Last May, the Formula 1 driver decided to go for a swim while on a visit to Aspen with his partner Tiffany Cromwell, an Australian professional cyclist, and their friend Paul Ripke, a photographer and creative.
The photo of Cromwell watching Botha, his bare bottom poking out of the water, made it onto the driver’s Instagram page. Bottas thought it looked artistic.
As expected, the post went viral. A special series of prints was made and sold, raising over $50,000 for charity. Bottas saved the final print for Lewis Hamiltonhis Mercedes team-mate of five years, who called it “one of the best pictures I’ve seen”.
It was also proof that Bottas was embracing his life off the track. Now racing with Alfa Romeo, he was relaxed enough to be himself away from the track. It was a different world to Mercedes, for whom he raced on a series of one-year contracts while coping with the demands of a title-chasing team.
For the summer holidays of 2023, Bottas returns to Aspen, spending his time away from the demands of a busy year. This season so far has been more difficult than 2022, bringing few on-track highlights amid Alfa Romeo’s struggle for consistent form.
However, Bottas has filled his ‘second life’ away from the track with interests such as cycling, a coffee roaster and a new denim startup.
“I feel like it’s a pretty sustainable way to be able to have a long career, to be able to separate the two (lives),” Bottas said. The Athlete.
At 33, Bottas may be closer to the end of his F1 career than the beginning. But he is keen to use his experience to help navigate Alfa Romeo through its current difficult period and be in a prime position when good times come for the team in the future.
Bottas has been part of the Mercedes juggernaut for five of their eight consecutive constructors’ championship victories. Partnering with Hamilton from 2017 to 2021, he won 10 races and twice finished second to his team-mate in the drivers’ championship. With the exception of Hamilton, no current F1 driver has been involved in more championship wins.
It’s a far cry from how Bottas started 2023. Now in his second year at Alfa Romeo, the Finn has just two points to his name, no higher than eighth. A driver who set an F1 record by reaching the final round of qualifying on 103 consecutive occasions has gone as far just twice as Alfa Romeo looks stuck in F1’s lower midfield.
“It was challenging,” Bottas said. “During the winter, many other teams managed to make bigger strides than us, even during the season now. It’s not an easy situation. And now we have to try to get out of it.”
Bottas started life at Alfa Romeo very differently. He joined after Mercedes opted to sign George Russell (then at Williams) as Hamilton’s new teammate ahead of the 2022 season, committing to a three-year deal. At the beginning of last year, Alfa Romeo was a regular scorer. Bottas took 46 points in the first nine races – and then just three in the next 13 as his form dipped.
Although Bottas says Alfa Romeo now has a “clearer plan” to develop its car, he knows he too will play a vital role, bringing his Mercedes experience to help the team going forward, especially as teammate Zhou Guanyu is only in his second F1 season.
“I have to give 100 percent of my knowledge and be fully committed,” Bottas said. “That’s my role at the moment – not just to drive the car, but to really keep pushing and trying.”
The fun factor
One thing Bottas discovered when he left Mercedes for Alfa Romeo is that a lot of F1 became more enjoyable. He was no longer fighting at the front, but he had more opportunities to show his personality. He could be who he really wanted to be.
Mercedes arguably brought Bottas the best years of his career. He regularly ran Hamilton close in qualifying, a significant achievement given the Briton has 104 pole positions to his name, more than anyone else in F1 history. But his pairing with Hamilton came with mental challenges. Team boss Toto Wolff once called Bottas the “wingman”, much to the Finn’s chagrin. Botha was asked to sideline Hamilton to help him win the 2018 Russian Grand Prix, something he said was “difficult to accept” in a later “Drive to Survive” season.
The pressure Bottas felt at Mercedes meant his more creative, seemingly happier side only emerged in the last two years. By his own admission, if he was still at Mercedes, he probably never would have posted the cheeky photo from Aspen. He no longer needs to fit in a certain way as part of one of the biggest title contenders.
Another example came at this year’s Australian Grand Prix, which Bottas adopted as his de facto home race because of Cromwell. She appeared for media day wearing a mullet, flip flops, wearing a tank top – with tan lines to complete the look – and flip flops. He regularly runs a special helmet for racing, incorporating Pac-Man (Monaco), beavers and woodpeckers (Canada) and even his own face in the plans.
Even through this year’s races, Bottas is enjoying F1. “I still enjoy it and there’s still a good vibe,” he said. He also appreciates the stability of knowing he will be at the team in 2024: His move to Alfa came with the kind of long-term contract he never had at Mercedes.
“She’s so nice!” Bottas said of his long-term contract. The lack of stability also had an impact off the track. “It was a little harder to turn off,” he said. “But now there’s a bit of stability, it’s a bit easier to split things up.”
This separation – between life as an F1 driver and life away from F1 – gave Bottas the opportunity to explore some of his greatest passions. In 2020, he became a co-owner of Kahiwa Coffee Roasters in his native Finland.
To his surprise, the upside of F1’s ‘Drive to Survive’ boom is that markets such as the United States are now ordering his coffee beans from Finland. “It’s very interesting to watch online sales,” he said. “Where F1’s biggest audiences are, those places are growing. So there’s definitely a connection.”
Earlier this year, Bottas and Cromwell launched a new jeans company called Oath. The pair collected jeans and saw an opportunity to further explore their shared interest. It’s also a venture with their post-competitive careers in mind.
“It’s another completely separate thing to think about and focus on,” Bottas said. “The main thing is again, it comes through passion. It is in both of our interests. It’s nice to do things that really interest you.”
Battle for the long haul
Even with his outside interests, Bottas’ focus and commitment remains firmly on the track. And he still has a role to play in the future of the sport.
Alfa Romeo is a team in transition. Last year, Audi announced it would enter F1 for the first time in 2026 by acquiring a majority stake in the Sauber Group which runs Alfa Romeo’s team operation. Alfa Romeo’s title sponsorship of the team will end before 2024.
Audi will arrive in F1 with a rich history in motor racing, including 13 victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is already expanding its base in Neuburg, Germany, which will be the home of engine development. Andreas Seidl, the team boss who helped oversee McLaren’s turnaround, became Sauber Group’s new CEO in December — a big signing that made its goals clear. Within a few years of joining the grid, Audi wants to be among F1’s top teams.
It makes the team an attractive proposition for drivers in the future. Bottas has been clear since the news broke his aim would be to stay close to Audi’s arrival and help lay the foundations in the meantime. It remains a great motivation in the most difficult times.
“It’s hard to fight at the back sometimes,” Bottas said. “When you’re almost fighting P-Last, it’s painful. I’m just trying to believe that things will get better and if I put in the effort, hopefully we’ll get through it.”
Bottas said Daniel Ricciardo’s shock return to the F1 grid with AlphaTauri, which now put him in contention for a future Red Bull seat, was a sign of how quickly fortunes can change for drivers.
“That’s the beauty of the sport,” Bottas said. “You never know what’s around the corner. You never know what is happening in the driver market and which teams are competitive.
“For me, being part of a manufacturer now is the next goal. This will hopefully give me the opportunity to get back there.”
(Main Image: Drawing: Eamonn Dalton; Photos: Francois Nel/Getty Images, Chris Putnam/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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