Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas was something of a sleeper success during the 2014 Formula 1 season.
The Finn, a former GP3 Series champion, claimed six podium finishes last year en route to finishing fourth in the Drivers’ Championship standings to cap off a remarkable turnaround year for the Williams team after a nightmare 2013 campaign.
“It was a great season for me, but also for the team. It was a great comeback for us and gave us a lot of confidence for this year and the future. Now we know we are a proper racing team; we can fight at the front, and I’ve proven to myself and everyone that I can fight at the front too,” he told RF1 in an exclusive interview on the Thursday of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix at Albert Park.
“We had a quick car at the start of 2014, but we just couldn’t maximise what we had as a team. In all other areas, we have improved massively in the off-season – particularly with strategy, set-up work, getting the best out of the tyres.”
While team did finish third in the Constructors’ Championship standings, last year’s FW36 was widely considered to be the fastest car on the grid behind the all-conquering Mercedes’, yet it was Red Bull Racing that claimed the only non-Mercedes wins of 2014. Criticism was rightly directed at Williams for some poor strategy calls that threw away their chances of victory.
Perhaps the team was not ready to win in 2014 after a previous year spent in the wilderness?
“We are a different team here now than one year ago,” Valtteri conceded.
“I’m confident that we can start the season at a good level in terms of how we operate and hopefully we can continue learning and improving from there. It’s a much better starting point than last year.
“If we can start this season at the same level we finished last year, that will be a good starting point. It would be nice to start with a podium finish. We definitely aim to make a step forward as a team.”
He and the team have to improve he added, and pointed to the championship standings rankings as the barometer of success in 2015.
“We were third in the Constructors’ standings and it would be nice to be higher than that, and that’s the same for me in the Drivers’ points. I think it’s possible; it’s still really early days,” he mused.
The new FW37 appears to sit a similar margin off the pace of the Mercedes’ as the FW36 last year, and it should head the ‘best of the rest’ charge, if pre-season testing is any guide.
What are his impressions of the FW37?
“The first feeling I had driving the new car was that it felt nice. It was really similar to last year’s car; I felt like I was back home. The car’s behaviour, everything, was really similar to the FW36, but with some improvements of course. There were no negatives compared to the FW36, just more rear end grip, which will really help with tyre life in the race which was sometimes a bit of a problem for us. It’s initially a good feeling, but we obviously have some work to do [to improve it further].
“The main thing we need to push is in the aerodynamics, getting more downforce to the front of the car. Mercedes is still ahead of us at this point; and I’m sure that will be the case for the races at the beginning of the year. It’s a long season, and we need to keep improving to produce more grip in the corners. We know that we are quick in a straight line, but not all the tracks will suit [that characteristic]. We are going to be strong as places like Monza, Albert Park, Canada, Spa and those kinds of places.”
This year’s Australian Grand Prix will mark Valtteri’s third hit-out around the Albert Park street circuit. He finished fifth here last year after a scrappy race which saw him pop a tyre after clipping a wall, but he still looks forward to kicking off the season in Australia.
“It is great to be here. I had my first Formula 1 race, it will be really exciting to have qualifying on Saturday and see where everyone is [on form] for the first time,” he added. “I like the country, the track and the fans.
“Where you need a good car is in the corners leading onto the long straights; you need a balanced, stable rear end so you can feed the throttle cleanly – so the most important is the first two corners, the final corner and the left-right chicane at the end of the back straight. For me, the best place on the circuit is the Turn 11/12 complex; it’s high speed and you need to be very precise.
“It’s definitely in my top-five [favourite circuits].”
Images via Eurosport, Williams Racing, XPB Images