Huge expectations have been placed on Valtteri Bottas to lift Williams back into the Formula One big time, but the crop-haired Finn was showing little sign of the strain three days before his championship debut at the Australian Grand Prix.
Bottas, a protege of fellow Finn and retired two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, has slotted comfortably into the seat vacated by the discarded Bruno Senna, having driven the Williams car in most of last year’s practice sessions.
A test driver since 2010, Bottas was rated by team principal Frank Williams as one of the “most talented” young drivers to emerge under his purview, and the assessment was well-received by the Finn.
“I’m sleeping well, like a baby,” the 23-year-old told reporters while bathing in sunshine in the paddock at Albert Park circuit. “At the moment I feel really good and really confident for the race.”
“Of course, it is the first grand prix (and) something special, so I’ve been looking forward to this the whole winter really. I’ve just been thinking about the weekend here as an opportunity. It’s nice to see that there are big expectations because that’s the same case for me. I do expect a lot and I always like to set the bar high because I think that’s what brings the result, makes you work harder and try more.”
Bottas drove in Friday practice in 15 of the Grands Prix last season, and will partner Pastor Maldonado as Williams, the second most successful F1 team with nine constructors championships, target an ambitious top-five finish after coming eighth last year.
Bottas posted creditable times during winter testing, keeping close enough to Maldonado to give the Venezuelan something to think about, but has set modest goals for Sunday’s race.
“Finishing the race is the first thing, for sure,” he said. “On Saturday, we will see where we are. Then I can maybe make another goal where we would like to finish … If the car is quick enough to get to the top 10, I would be very happy to get my first points on Sunday.”
While Hakkinen has provided tips on a weekly basis, another championship-winning Finn in Kimi Raikkonen has been more elusive.
“I haven’t seen him much around,” Bottas said of the tight-lipped 2007 world champion Raikkonen, who will be on the grid driving for Lotus.
“Maybe later, but some advice I have heard from Mika is to say ‘just do your best and you will do OK.'”
Bottas said he could also learn from the sometimes erratic Maldonado, who handed the team their first win in nearly eight years last season, though squandered a lot of points through racing infractions.
“In testing there are some things in his driving style, he’s quite aggressive and in some places it works very well,” Bottas said, choosing his words carefully.
“He’s a guy that takes everything out of the car in qualifying and that will be something for me to possibly learn from him. Of course, I was hoping that we are very close and the whole testing we were really close and it was really nice to see and I don’t expect to be far from him. I’m never satisfied really, until you are quicker than the other one.”