New Alfa Romeo signing Valtteri Bottas has revealed his pride at having partnered seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton for five years at Mercedes, and has warned the Briton’s rivals of his performance going into the new season.
Bottas was signed alongside Hamilton to replace the retiring Nico Rosberg ahead of the 2017 season, and spent five seasons with the Silver Arrows, claiming 10 race wins in 101 races.
The pair managed 21 1-2 finishes between 2017 and 2020, and the Finn helped them to five of their record eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships before he departed at the end of last year.
He was often placed into a support role for the 37-year-old as he claimed the drivers’ title in four of the five years they spent together but, having gone up against arguably one of the greatest drivers of all time, he is pleased to have shared a team with a “legend” like Hamilton.
“I had a great five years with Lewis as his team-mate and now actually thinking about it, it was an honour. Like, he’s a living legend!” he said, as quoted by The Race.
“And he’s a great guy and great driver – really fast. He definitely made me work hard to try and beat him.”
While he was never able to sustain an advantage over the Briton throughout an entire season, he is proud of the occasions on which he was able to better the 103-time race winner.
“Sometimes I could, but on a season average I couldn’t. So that’s how it goes. You always meet, eventually, someone who’s better than you and you need to accept it,” he added.
“And I’m fine with it. I’m happy that sometimes when I was at my best I could beat him.
“But we came a long way. We achieved so much together, so many 1-2 results. Five Constructors’ Championships together.
“I learned from him about life and about racing, and maybe vice versa as well. So it was a really good time with him.”
Hamilton was cruelly denied his eighth world championship by a contentious Safety Car restart by race director Michael Masi in 2021, leading him to take a social media sabbatical which made fans and pundit alike ponder the longevity of his career.
However, he returned and emphatically stated after the release of his team’s W13 car that, following his tremendous form at the end of last year, he will be even better this season.
Bottas does not doubt that for one second and warned of a robust continuation of form for his ex-teammate.
“After everything that happened at the end of last year, you’ll see,” he added.
“He will be pretty strong and he will have the fire inside him, so beware!”
Bottas has been reunited with former GP3 ART team principal Frederic Vasseur in 2021 and, racing alongside Chinese rookie Guanyu Zhou, he has the chance to mentor a younger driver and lead the team for the first time in his career.
He has previously revealed that he is looking forward to the challenge, and maintains that he has a lot left to give to the pinnacle of motorsport.
“I absolutely feel I have still so much to do to get better and so much more to give to this sport,” he explained.
“As a driver, you never stop learning as long as you want to.
“So, of course I’m always looking at areas I can be better and it truly feels like now I can just be the best version of myself instead of trying to be something else and trying too hard.”
The Finn acknowledges the companiable atmosphere he has felt since arrival to the Swiss team, and is grateful for the warm welcome he has received while affirming that he does not see himself as the outright team leader, as this venture will be a joint effort from the whole team in Zurich.
“But in the end it will be a team effort. And I don’t see me as the only leader of the team, we are in this together. That’s the feeling,” he affirmed.
“Of course I can guide the way they go if I feel like I have experiences from the past, but in the end we are in this together with Guanyu [Zhou] and the whole team and with Robert [Kubica, reserve/development driver] as well.
“But for now, it’s been a nice atmosphere. I’m more than happy to be here and again, I want to thank the team for this opportunity.”
Bottas enters his 10th season in F1 this year, having joined Williams in his debut year in 2013. He has previously revealed that he had the option to return to the Grove outfit after his Mercedes departure, but chose Alfa Romeo instead.