Formula One drivers are by nature self-centered, focused solely on looking after number one in the world's most individual team sport. Ask most racers a question, and their first thought will typically be about themselves, their thoughts or their feelings.

It's something of a pleasant surprise then that when Crash.net sits down with Williams Martini Racing's rising star Valtteri Bottas to talk about his favourite race, the Finn doesn't immediately reflect back on a Grand Prix of particular personal career resonance.

Casting aside the temptation to choose his debut race at Australia in 2013, his maiden points at Austin at the close of his rookie season or his first front-row start and podium at Austria in 2013, Bottas instead shows he is something of a student of the sport by nominating the 1997 European Grand Prix as his favourite race.

The final round of the 1997 season, the race is of course well-remembered for the title showdown and notorious collision between Williams' Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. For Bottas though, the race made an impression for an altogether different reason.

"I think [it's my favourite] because it was Mika's first win and it was a massive thing in Finland," Bottas recalls. "I was seven or eight years old, and I'd been watching Mika's races before. I think it gave him massive confidence getting that first win. He'd waited six years, and once it happened I'm sure it unlocked something in him. I watched all of the races but that's one that stands out."

It's an interestingly patriotic take on one of Formula One's most contentious races. Hakkinen was on the cusp of his sharp progression from a talented yet frequently unfortunate underdog to championship-challenging hard-charger, and the first win was something of a watershed moment.

Securing that maiden win was far from straightforward for Hakkinen though. Having qualified fifth, Hakkinen was initially part of the sub-plot behind the fascinatingly tense title fight between Schumacher and Villenueve.

The protagonists, who along with Heinz-Harald Frentzen had remarkably set the exact same qualifying time to the thousandth of a second, initially set off in a race of their own. For a young Bottas, watching at home with his father, there was no question of where his loyalties lay. "I also liked Villeneuve at that time, he was racing with Michael and I was supporting Villeneuve," he recalls.

When the crucial flashpoint came on lap 48, Bottas was left in no doubt as to who was to blame. "They were fighting for the title and then when they hit it was a cool moment", Bottas remembers. "I must have been cheering. I think you can see Schumacher was at fault though - you can see afterwards the movement with the steering wheel."

With Schumacher out and Villeneuve ailing, the McLarens of Hakkinen and Coulthard were able to pass the Williams on the last lap - clinching Hakkinen's maiden victory, McLaren's first 1-2 since the 1991 Japanese GP and Villeneuve's first world title.

Having taken his first pole position two races previously at the Nurburgring, Hakkinen's first win afforded him crucial momentum heading into 1998. As Bottas recalls, "McLaren had a really good car in the next season and Mika went on to be really successful."

Bottas, who has started go-karting in 1996 at the age of seven, was a devout fan of his countryman growing up, and says he found it strange that he ended up as a prot?g? of his childhood idol. "It's weird. I was supporting him as a kid and he was a hero. For me that was a big motivation to try and get into F1. Then one day in 2008 he called me up and said he wants to meet me and wants to help with my career."

Despite their comfortable relationship now, Bottas says that he still hasn't broached the subject of Hakkinen's first win with his erstwhile mentor. As the new great hope of Finnish motor racing gets ever closer to breaking his duck in Formula One, perhaps he could do worse than to re-watch the tape of his favourite Grand Prix for a few pointers...

 

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