Driver of Interest: Bottas key for Mercedes, Hamilton in championship chases

Max Verstappen looks to hold off Lewis Hamilton as F1 heads to Saudi Arabia for its penultimate race of the season.

Before Valtteri Bottas bids "hyvästi" to Mercedes, the Finnish driver plays a crucial role in helping the German juggernaut in its historic bid for a record-extending eighth straight Formula One constructors' championship and teammate Lewis Hamilton in his quest for a record-breaking eighth drivers' title.

The 2021 campaign has been the most difficult with Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing providing a formidable challenge for both coveted trophies. Verstappen tops the standings, eight points ahead of Hamilton, and Red Bull is only five points back of Mercedes for the constructors' with two races remaining.

Mercedes is counting on Bottas, who has been the quintessential teammate and a consummate professional, even with one foot out the door as he's set to join Alfa Romeo next season.

Despite a career-high four retirements in 2021, including the most recent Qatar Grand Prix, Bottas is third with a victory in Turkey and 10 total podium finishes.

While Hamilton and Verstappen are sure to battle down to the wire, Bottas can do his part to aid his teammate should he find himself in a position on the track that benefits the greater good, e.g. letting Hamilton pass him or making an extra late pit stop for fresh tires to try and swipe the fastest lap point from Verstappen.

Bottas also has to hold off Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who's in fourth place and 13 points behind.

Here are some interesting facts and stats about Bottas ahead of Sunday's inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the penultimate race of the season.

Bio Box

Date of Birth: Aug. 28, 1989 (32 years old)
Hometown: Nastola, Finland
Years in Formula One: 9 (fifth season with Mercedes)
Car Number: 77
Career Wins: 10
2021 Standings: 3rd place, 203 points

Third place finisher Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, of Finland, pours champagne over teammate and winner of the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton. (Lars Baron/AP)

RIP Sir Frank

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be emotional for all in the F1 paddock as it'll be the first race since the passing of Sir Frank Williams, who founded the team that bears his name and was at the helm of a combined 16 drivers' and constructors' championships.

Williams died last month at age 79. Drivers paid tribute on social media including Bottas, who got his start in Formula One with Williams' team.

Bottas tweeted, "Sad news today. Thank you for everything Frank. You will be missed. Rest in peace," and also posted a photo of himself with Williams.

Alfa Romeo, really?

It might seem bizarre on the surface for Bottas to leave the top team on the track for one that's been struggling for points, never mind podiums, but there is a method to his madness.

It's obvious George Russell, currently at Williams, is the heir apparent at Mercedes and the writing's been on the wall. Russell was part of Mercedes' junior program and filled in admirably during the Sakhir Grand Prix last season when Hamilton was out with COVID-19.

For Bottas, it's about needing a fresh start.

"It’s something new, something exciting for me and it’s a bit of a project," Bottas told "No doubt there’ll be work to do, I’ll give all the expertise I can to try and improve from this season for sure."

He added: “Realistically to fight for the wins next year is going to be unrealistic, but you never know. There’s a regulation change, there’s a big bunch of motivated people and we’ll give it everything we can to get as close to the front, or to the front, as soon as possible.”

Plus, for all the doubters about the move out there, you know Bottas would love to shut down his critics again with another "To Whom It May Concern" celebration.


There's a simple explanation for why Bottas chose No. 77, partially because of (but not in tribute to) fellow Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen.

“I liked seven, so I thought 77 would be good," Bottas said in an Ask Me Anything video. "And actually seven was already taken by Kimi. So then I just thought double seven would be good.”

Blue (Da Ba Dee)

Although Bottas' racing idol growing up was two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, a different driver from that era inspired his helmet: Olivier Panis.

"I was watching all of the races on TV, and he had this great race in Monaco and also very close to that time he had a big accident and broke his legs," Bottas told "He recovered really quickly and I just thought he was a tough guy. I am a big fan of blue, too, so I also really liked his design and copied it.”

A different kind of racing

During F1's summer break in August, Bottas took part in his first gravel cycling race in Colorado and finished second in his age group and fifth overall on the 64-mile course.

His girlfriend, Tiffany Cromwell, is a pro rider and finished eighth on the 144-mile route.

Of course, Bottas is on Strava where his sense of humour has shined. After his retirement from Qatar due to tire troubles, Bottas clocked a 40-km bike ride and noted "no punctures today."

If he wasn't a driver ...

Bottas would have liked to have been a hockey player and played for almost a decade growing up but had to make the difficult decision choosing one sporting career path over the other.

"When you're playing hockey, it gets more and more professional as you get older and move up," Bottas told "So, then I chose to focus only on racing. But, hockey still holds a special place in my heart."

Bottas is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and joined them at their practice facility in 2017 to compete in a race against Habs forward Paul Byron. Bottas is quite the slick skater, actually.

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