The latest in a line of ‘Flying Finns’ to opt for circuit racing over rallying, Valtteri Bottas arrived in F1 with a strong pedigree in the lower formulae.
As has become the norm for any aspiring F1 driver, the young Bottas got his first taste of speed at the wheel of a kart when he was just six years old, but the early start stood him in good stead as, over the next ten years, he rose to become a stalwart of the national kart team, and the winner of multiple titles, culminating in the WSK International Series crown in Formula A capping a stellar 2006 campaign that also included championship success in the national Formula A and ICA classes.
With little left to prove in the ultimate proving ground, Bottas began to explore his options in single-seaters, eventually deciding to jump straight into the ‘slicks and wings’ Formula Renault category, After a learning year in 2007, in which he would have won the Formula Renault UK Winter Series had it not been for holding the wrong licence, he returned the following season to accomplish the rare feat of winning both the Formula Renault Eurocup and Northern European Cup.
A record of 17 victories in 28 races that season was more than enough reason for teams higher up the ladder to take an interest in Bottas, and he landed with the crack ART Grand Prix squad for the 2009 F3 Euroseries. Although he wasn’t able to add to his career win record in the championship, the Finn still managed to tie down third in the overall standings, and proved what everyone suspected by coming out on top in the one-off Masters of F3 event, winning from pole and claiming fastest race lap for good measure.
Considering F3 ‘unfinished business’, Bottas was back in 2010, again running with ART in the Euroseries and the blue riband annual events around the globe. This time, he managed to claim two race wins, but still had to settle for third in the standings, although his season was underscored by a repeat success in the Masters event, making him the only driver to have taken that title twice. He also finished on the podium in the end-of-year Macau Grand Prix, underlining the Williams F1 team’s decision to take him as its new test driver at the start of the year.
He continued with Williams into 2011, although testing opportunities remained limited, and combined the role with a move to the GP3, where he filled the seat vacated by inaugural champion Esteban Gutierrez at ART. The start of the season seemed to suggest that Bottas was in for another like those he had suffered in F3 but, after a slow start, the results started to come together and, after racking up six podiums in seven race – including victories in Germany, Hungary, Belgium and Italy, he was able to take the title with a race to go.
With more people suggesting that an F1 future almost certainly lay ahead of the Finn, Bottas decided that he would spend 2012 focusing entirely on learning as much as he could about the top flight. To that end, he opted not to head for GP2, but instead spend every possible moment with Williams. The fact that the Grove-based team was prepared to give him 15 free practice outings over the 20-race season, at the expense of race regular Bruno Senna, undoubtedly helped Bottas’ decision, and the Finn responded positively, often out-pacing the sister car during the 90-minute outing.
The decision also paid off, as Bottas was duly promoted to the race team for 2013, his package preferred to that being offered by Senna, while the well-backed Pastor Maldonado continues in the number one role.
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