During his time at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas has endured a significant amount of criticism for being called the unofficial second diver to Lewis Hamilton.
The Finn joined the Brackley-based team in 2017 replacing German driver Nico Rosberg and drove for the Mercedes team until 2021.
During his five-year period with Mercedes, Bottas revealed a crucial moment in his racing career in which he wanted to quit F1 altogether. In a recent podcast for Motor Sport Magazine, Bottas discussed his path into F1 and opened up about the struggles he faced at Mercedes competing next to teammate Hamilton.
While the move to join Mercedes in 2017 was a huge step in his racing career, Bottas divulged that he struggled to comprehend the fact that he couldn't beat Hamilton during his first two years at Mercedes. In 2018, Bottas went from winning three races in 2017 to securing no wins a year later for the team.
By the time Bottas made the transition from the Williams team to the Mercedes team, Hamilton had already been settled in with the team for four years. The Finn stated that he dealt with major setbacks with Mercedes at the beginning because the team was heavily centered and built around Hamilton.
“Lewis had been parked there for a long time and as you know as a driver and as a person in the team's he’s the dominant person. So it's quite difficult to step up and I never could really step up in a way that I wanted alongside Lewis because the team was so welded in and you know, and he's, he's Lewis so it's like, everyone looks up to him or so that's how it goes.”
The 32-year-old recalled how his second year with Mercedes proved to be a pivotal moment in his racing career where he couldn’t handle the disappointment and pressure he put on himself to succeed, ultimately almost walking away from F1 altogether.
“At the end of 2018 I almost stopped,” Bottas said. “It was so close. Just because of the fact I couldn’t understand and take in the fact that I couldn’t beat Lewis in those two years.
“I put so much pressure on myself. Towards the end of ’18, especially when I started to have the support role in the team, I really couldn’t take it — I really struggled. It was not fun. The last four or five races of ’18 was more painful than… you should enjoy F1, it’s pretty cool, but it wasn’t that at all.
“I had a good break then between the two seasons and really had to think things through. I decided to go on a break in South America somewhere and just tried not to think about F1 at all and try to find the will and the joy for the sport, and the motivation.
“I found it — it was like a click at one point. But it was after New Year’s, probably mid-January or something, I decided, ‘OK, let’s do this, I can still do it.’ So I managed to get myself together and then I found the joy of the driving again.
“Immediately the results were much better than in ’18. Actually I think that following year in ’19 was probably my best season so far, especially against Lewis — I won quite a few races and until halfway through the season I was sometimes even leading the championship, so it was a pretty strong year. But then, just Lewis’ consistency and performances overall for the whole season, I couldn’t match.”
In addition to contemplating retiring from F1, Bottas also described how he lost his joy for the sport and how he needed to take a break from racing to clear his head.
“Yes, absolutely. The human mind is strange in a way — sometimes you go into dark places and you lose the joy on things. I just completely lost the joy of F1 and racing in F1. I was almost angry at F1; it’s weird. I just needed some time off. Think things in a big picture and then I realized actually it’s a pretty cool sport and I still have great opportunities ahead of me so I would be silly not to take them.
“I was walking in a Finnish forest, in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I like to disappear, go for a hike for one or two hours in the snow. I was just standing still, looking around, and could feel this adrenaline. I was like ‘Yeah, let’s do this,’ and then I won the first race!”
After the winter break, Bottas won the first race of the 2019 season in Australia. However, it was his radio message to his team when he crossed the finish line that attracted the most attention. Bottas not holding back said “To whom it may concern: F**k you” after the race on the radio.
The former Mercedes driver clarified that his comment over the radio was a general message directed at the people who have doubted and criticized him over the years.
“No, not someone in particular. I got a lot of criticism throughout the last part of ’18; should I be a Mercedes driver? Is he the right guy for the team? That started to annoy me. So it was basically for people who were starting to push me down. I started to use that as motivation for that race.”
Bottas admitted that his bold post-race statement was also a message for himself because he came close to quitting F1 and that it's important to never give up.
“Those kind of moments, I just want to tell people to always look at the big picture in life. If you feel a bit anxious about things, take a step back, there’s always so much more to get if you don’t give up.”