Former Formula 1 driver Mika Hakkinen has expressed his sympathy with compatriot Valtteri Bottas’ difficult stint at Mercedes, but is glad the 32-year-old now has a team where he is “trusted.”
Bottas spent five years racing for Mercedes alongside Sir Lewis Hamilton, with him joining in 2017 to replace Nico Rosberg who had just retired following his championship success.
Bottas secured nine podium finishes with Williams between 2014 and the end of 2016, and claimed his first Mercedes win at the Russian Grand Prix in his first season with the team – one race after he had taken his maiden pole position in Bahrain.
However, he was out-qualified by Hamilton 72 times in the 100 races they spent together, finishing behind the Briton in the championship in all five seasons they spent at team-mates.
The 37-year-old claimed title glory in all but one of the five years, and this often resulted in the Finn needing to play second fiddle to the seven-time world champion.
This was epitomised at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix when Bottas was ordered to give Hamilton the victory despite leading for much of the afternoon, in a race that team principal Toto Wolff has since admitted he “robbed” victory from the Finn.
The Austrian also described Bottas as a good “wingman” to Hamilton, and the Finn later admitted this comment “hurts”.
Bottas won 10 of the 101 races he spent with Mercedes, and scored 58 podiums en route to aiding the Silver Arrows to the Constructors’ Championship in all five of the years he raced with them.
But, he was always kept on one-year deals by Wolff.
The Finn has recently put this down to his former manager believing that pressure would help him, but conceded that constantly wondering if his future was safe began to wear on him.
Hakkinen, who won two Formula 1 championships with McLaren in 1998 and 1999, has praised the job Bottas did with Mercedes.
“Valtteri is a great team player and driver,” he told SuomiF1.
The 53-year-old does, however, believe that the new Alfa Romeo driver will have to acclimatise himself to battling towards the back of the grid this year.
“He will drive for a great team. But he won’t be fighting for the same kind of positions compared to his Mercedes days.”
Bottas has been signed on a three-year contract with the Swiss team, and Hakkinen reckons that finally having a secure future will do the 32-year-old some good.
“The teams’ resources are not comparable, but now he can prepare for the long term,” he said.
“With Mercedes’ one-year contracts, there was always light at the end of the tunnel but there was always a locked door waiting.
“That uncertainty eats away at confidence,” he added.
He then highlighted the importance of racing for a team that will support him in the long run.
“He didn’t get the credit he wanted from Mercedes. If the rug is constantly pulled out from under you, it eats away at your confidence.
“Now Valtteri has the chance to drive in a team where he is trusted for the long term.”
Bottas will partner Guanyu Zhou at Alfa Romeo next season, with the Formula 2 graduate ending last season third in the Drivers’ Standings with four wins.