Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas has conceded that he wondered how long his career might go on for while he was at Mercedes.
Bottas won 10 races in five seasons with the Silver Arrows, and helped them to the Constructors’ Championship in all five years, securing 21 one-two finishes together with team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton.
However, he as often asked to play second fiddle for the seven-time champion, and this, coupled with the fact that the German side only ever gave him one-year deals, became untenable.
He therefore left for Alfa Romeo, with whom he has scored points six times in the opening seven rounds of the 2022 season, so he is “loving” his time at the Swiss team currently.
“Absolutely, I’m definitely loving it,” he told Formula1.com.
“It’s been really good fun and interesting and actually super rewarding when we’ve got those points-scoring finishes and everything.
“Also, seeing the progress and seeing the motivation of the people, that’s really nice.”
The Finn reveals that there is still pressure at Alfa Romeo, but it is a different, and nicer, pressure to what he experienced at the eight-time champions.
“I have to say yes,” said Bottas.
“There is still good pressure because we all want to do well and I want to deliver but it feels a bit different.
“It’s hard to explain but I feel like I can just really drive like I want to drive and set up the car like I want to do it and it’s been fun.”
Away from Formula 1, Bottas has been getting involved in promoting gym wear and watches, as well as pursuing his interests in cycling with Lance Armstrong.
He has recently helped set up FNLD GRVL, a gravel-specific cycling event that will take place in Lahti next year, around a 16-minute drive West of where Bottas grew up in Nastola.
“I’m keeping busy with many other things and really just trying to follow my passion,” he explained.
“I just normally like to do things that make me happy and what I have passion for, so [there are] many projects and many ideas for the future.
“I feel like everything is in a good balance right now, the racing, the work, but also in my private life when I have a bit of time off, I do some cool things and enjoy life.
“I sometimes disconnecting and sometimes doing different things is important for your head, so when you come to races you’re fresh and you’re really keen to go.
“For me at least, if my life would be 24/7 only about F1, if can get a bit tiring in a way and you lose the spark so I like to sometimes disconnect and reset.”
Bottas has out-qualified rookie team-mate Zhou Guanyu in all seven races so far this season, and the Chinese driver has had a rocky time of it since he scored in Bahrain in the opening round of the season.
The 32-year-old has been helping Zhou get used to life behind the wheel of an F1 car, a role he is really enjoying.
“It’s a new situation for me,” added Bottas.
“I never had a younger or less experienced team-mate before so it’s new but, he’s just such a nice guy.
“He’s asking for advice so for me it’s quite easy to try and help him because I just try to give him all the information I can and also talking about setups, driving, it’s very open talk.
“And he’s a very keen learner, I feel like he’s been pretty unlucky in the last couple of races so a good result for him would make a lot of good.”
Having been wondering about the longevity of his career during his time at Mercedes, Bottas is enthused by the idea of racing for “many years” to come.
“It does,” he affirmed.
“It definitely is like a new chapter, and I feel so much energy.
“I don’t know, a couple of years ago, I might have been thinking ‘how long do I want to continue in F1 but now I’m like… ‘there’s so, so many years ahead,’ and I’m enjoying it so absolutely, it’s good fun.”
What he does not want to think about yet, though, is what he will do when his driving career in the pinnacle of motorsport eventually comes to an end.
“Let’s see, I’m still going to be enjoying driving,” said the Alfa Romeo driver.
“I feel like you as a driver decide when you peak and for me that hasn’t happened yet.
“So, I think there’s much more for me to give as a driver to the sport but I’m not going to say much about the future, I’m just really open about everything and [I’ll] see where the wind takes me.”
The F1 circus has rolled into Baku this weekend, and it is a race that has tossed up no shortage of shocks and surprises since its inception in 2016.
Bottas scored points for Williams in the inaugural race when it was known as the European Grand Prix, and came back from last and a lap down in 2017 following contact with Kimi Raikkonen to finish second a year later for Mercedes, pipping Lance Stroll to the line at the finish.
He was on the cusp of victory a year later before a puncture at the end cost him the end, and he won in 2019 with a dominant performance before ending down in P12 last season.
The 32-year-old has had mixed fortunes in Baku over the years, but the balance between risk and reward at the street circuit is something that seems to suit him.
“Since the first year we came here I really enjoyed the track,” said the Alfa Romeo driver.
“It’s definitely a challenging track, I would say one of the most difficult tracks to nail in qualifying and also the races.
“It’s unpredictable and can be pretty crazy so I feel like here always in the race, it’s all about the long game and calculating risk.
“But in qualifying you need to take risks, so I think that balance just works for me.”
Having been hoping for a podium in Monaco two weeks ago, Bottas finished the race in eighth, but he believes the Swiss team have figured out why things did not quite pan out as anticipated.
“I really hope Monaco was an outlier,” he explained.
“I think we’ve learned quite a bit about the car mechanically, and we’ve found out some things, why we weren’t quite as quick as we thought we would [be].
“But, I think it’s a bit different, there’s a bit shorter corners here, 90-degree corners and not that much off-camber corners except in the old town so I hope it’s going to be better but let’s see.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from last week which is important and hopefully we can be pretty strong.”
With so much unpredictability about this race, so Alfa Romeo need to make sure they are in prime position to take advantage of any shenanigans.
“It’s possible,” affirmed Bottas.
“That’s Formula 1, you never know what happens and we just need to make sure we focus on our performance.
“We need to be there, and if something happens, we’ll see.”
Bottas is currently eighth in the Drivers’ Championship, and is striving to become the first driver since Riccardo Patrese’s P3 in Italy in 1984.