itting on the second floor of the
Mercedes Formula 1 team’s palatial
motorhome on a hot afternoon in central
Europe, a championship contender
strides confidently across the dark
wooden floor to a sun-kissed table
protected by tinted glass.
“So, Valtteri, I’d like to talk about
something with a very Finnish focus…”
“Good,” Valtteri Bottas smiles as he
sits forward, ready for what he hopes
will be an interesting topic.
RACER ’s pronunciation is immediately
corrected in a manner that suggests Bottas
has had to do it on multiple occasions.
“Is it a real thing?” I ask.
“It’s a word…” he shrugs.
Perhaps the topic isn’t as intriguing as I’d
hoped. But there’s a mischievous grin on
the face of the 27-year-old that suggests
he’s going to enjoy disproving the theory.
The confidence with which Bottas carries
himself is impressive. His demeanor hasn’t
changed since his move from Williams to
Mercedes for 2017, entering what’s seen
as Lewis Hamilton’s team and going toe
to toe with the triple world champion. But
then again, it should be no surprise, as
little seems to faze the Finns…
Sisu, a peculiarly Finnish and
somewhat mysterious take on strength of
will and rationality in the face of adversity,
clearly isn’t something that will get Bottas
particularly animated either, as he doesn’t
view it as a tangible that exists.
“It’s a saying,” he explains. “I think Finns
are a little bit their own type of people.
Compared to other countries we’re quite
quiet and we don’t tend to give up easily.
It’s kind of a meaning for willpower,
mental strength and that kind of thing.
“It’s just…someone made a word for it.
I don’t believe in magic, so I don’t believe
sisu is a magic thing. It’s just how Finns
are. It’s the description for our traits.”
For a country with a population of just
5. 5 million people, Finland has a
remarkable hit rate in motorsports.
Rallying continues to be a hotbed of talent,
and while drivers reaching Formula 1 are
not huge in number, they certainly are in
success (see sidebar, page 79).
Finland’s F1 history got off to an
inauspicious start, with the late Leo
Kinnunen becoming its first driver in 1974.
He drove a leased Surtees TS16 under the
AAW team name, which stood for Antti
Aarnio-Wihuri – aptly, the head of the
Wihuri group that now backs Bottas.
The team lasted one year, and Kinnunen
qualified just once in six attempts.
Since then things have been much
more impressive. Of the seven Finns since
Kinnunen to start a grand prix, five have
won a race, and three – Keke Rosberg,
Mika Hakkinen (twice) and Kimi Raikkonen
– became Formula 1 World Champion.
Bottas cites Finland’s historical struggles,
including spells under Swedish and Russian
rule, as well as its difficult climate, as
aspects that cemented the sisu traits, and
perhaps ensured drivers who made it to
F1 were going to make the most of it.
“We only have a short summer. For
example doing go-karts, all the rest of
Born in Nastola,
Finland, in 1989,
Valtteri Bottas got
hooked on karting as
a kid and won a Finish
national title aged 13.
He switched to cars
in 2007, first Formula
Renault, then F3 in ’09,
where his performances
put him on the Williams
F1 team’s radar.
After signing as a
Williams test driver in
2010, but continuing
in F3, he switched to
GP3 in ’ 11, winning
the title with ART
Grand Prix (ABOVE).
The following year,
he didn’t race, but built
his F1 chops with 15
Friday Free Practice 1
outings for Williams.
Promoted to the
team’s race roster in
2013, Bottas had his
breakout season in ’ 14
(BELOW), taking six
podiums and finishing
4th in the final points.
Two more Williams
seasons earned him
5th and 8th in points.
But when the call came
to join Mercedes for
2017, it was an offer
he couldn’t refuse...
PATH TO THE
(ABOVE) Valtteri Bottas took over one of the
most coveted seat in F1 for 2017 – alongside
Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. (BELOW)
“You’re welcome...” Nico Rosberg’s shock
retirement provided him the opportunity.