Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas has spoken of his enthusiasm towards going up against Sir Lewis Hamilton and his former Mercedes team after a scintillating qualifying display in Bahrain.
There were conflicting reports around the Swiss team over the winter, with some claiming they were about to struggle financially, while others tipped them to be a whole second faster than last year in spite of the changes to the technical regulations making the cars theoretically slower.
Rookie Guanyu Zhou enjoyed a productive day as he qualified 15th in debut, but one of the stars of the day was Bottas, who beat his Mercedes successor Valtteri Bottas and will start alongside former Silver Arrows partner Hamilton.
Team principal of the eight-time constructors’ champions Mercedes Toto Wolff revealed that Bottas messaged him after qualifying.
“He sent me a WhatsApp that said ‘look forward to racing you guys tomorrow’,” he said.
“I’m happy for him, for Valtteri, that he has made the move to Alfa, and he’s the lead driver. As far as I understand, he’s bringing his great personality to the team, and he’s energising the team.”
The 32-year-old helped the Brackley squad win the championship in all five of his seasons with them – making up part of their record eight consecutive.
He was also influential at times in the seven-time world champion’s four individual titles while they were team-mates and, having previously described it as an “honour” to have worked alongside him, Bottas will have “fun” battling the Briton.
“We’re starting side by side, it’s pretty cool. I just saw him and we were both smiling. It should be fun,” he added.
“If somebody had told me in Bahrain we’re going to be starting side by side with Lewis, I’d take it.
“But yeah, this is the beginning, the starting point for our journey. Now we need to make sure we’re looking ahead and trying to look forward rather than backwards. So it’s exciting.”
Due to the unprecedented nature of the new regulations, it was virtually impossible to tell which teams would realistically be at the front.
Mercedes have become notorious for bluffing about their performance for a psychological edge in recent years, but it appeared this time as though their concerns were very real indeed.
Conversely, Alfa Romeo were pleasantly surprising having gone guilefully under the radar during pre-season testing.
“It is the first session that we would find out where we actually are,” he explained.
“Yes, it makes me happy. It gives me a lot of hope – instead, if I would have finished P18, it would have been a slightly bigger mountain to climb.
“It’s still a mountain, but it’s not Mount Everest anymore.”
During his five years and 101 races at Mercedes, the Finn made Q3 in every single one, giving him optimism of commencing his Alfa Romeo career in a similar vein.
“I told the team this morning that it’s time for 102 today, and they were all up for it. So yeah, it’s nice,” he added.