until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The harsh realities of a failing lifelong F1 dream

by Matt Beer
5 min read

The Valtteri Bottas that turns up for the Belgian Grand Prix will undoubtedly be different to the one left to despondently survey his fading Formula 1 hopes after a tough Barcelona race. He said as much when he admitted he could see the championship slipping away and was assessing the first fragments of another failed title bid.

Moments of vulnerability are rare in elite sport and it’s no different in F1. Raw emotion comes to the surface quite a lot but often there is no room to appear weak – mistakes will be acknowledged and learned from, difficult days will be brushed aside to look ahead to better things.

Sometimes that’s not so easy to do. One example that stands out is Sergey Sirotkin visibly struggling to come to terms with the fact he wouldn’t be an F1 driver anymore after finding out he was being replaced at Williams. Bottas, after the Spanish GP, evoked a similar feeling.

It would be an exaggeration to say Bottas was a broken man after finishing third at Barcelona and falling 43 points behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton after six races. But he did cut a dejected, slightly lost figure.

After qualifying, Bottas had answered a question from The Race about how the top drivers stay motivated by reiterating he is fuelled by his lifelong dream of becoming world champion. He even admitted 24 hours later that he accepts F1’s gruelling current schedule and coronavirus-enforced lifestyle restrictions because “the only goal is to win the title and I do everything for that”.

Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 2020

It’s therefore logical to conclude that failing in that ambition is a source of mental anguish. Especially when it’s happening for the fourth time.

“When things don’t go in your way or the way you imagine, obviously then it gets tougher,” Bottas admitted.

“It’s been fine so far because I know that we’re still not even halfway of the season – so in theory there are always possibilities, and that helps.

“But today is a big frustration because the last two weekends I lost a lot of points compared to Lewis and mentally it would have been important to get more points than Lewis and Max, but it didn’t happen.

It is very difficult to consider that sacrifice, effort, and longing being met with a powerful punch to the gut after just a few races because he simply doesn’t have enough

“So, then it’s tough. But no doubt I’ll find the right spirit and try again.”

In a sporting context, Bottas doesn’t want, need, or deserve sympathy. This is the pinnacle of competition and he’s up against one of the greatest drivers of all times. If he’s not good enough to go with that, it’s no real shame – it’s just reality.

It becomes tougher to separate the athlete from the person when you assess his situation from a humane perspective. Bottas has worked for this his entire life, he’s dreamed about it since he was a child. Every year he works harder, gets better, gets closer, and falls short. He was more motivated, fitter, confident than ever after utilising the coronavirus pandemic and happier home life to elevate himself to a new level – and he’s still falling short.

Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 2020

It is very difficult to consider that sacrifice, effort, and longing being met with a powerful punch to the gut after just a few races because he simply doesn’t have enough. Especially when the answer’s not obvious, other than a vague ‘Hamilton is just better’.

That’s not good enough at this level and Bottas was at a loss to pinpoint exactly how he’s being beaten again. He was asked if he could put his finger on why Hamilton, yet again, has been able to shift into a commanding position and put Bottas on the ropes. “No, I can’t,” was the honest response.

“I had a good start in the first race and the pace all season, every single race has been there in qualifying – super close every single time with Lewis,” said Bottas.

“Sometimes he beats me, sometimes I beat him. Small margins.

“I don’t have the reason for now. There was a couple of shitty races in Silverstone with bad luck.

“It’s at this point difficult to say. Maybe when time goes on I can say but for now, no, I have no answer.”

Bottas has inflicted this on another driver in his career. One of Bottas’s team-mates in junior single-seaters told me that one event made him realise whatever Bottas was doing at a particular corner, he couldn’t match.

Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 2020

It was at that point this driver, who has since become a very successful professional racer operating at a very high level, suspected he himself wasn’t good enough for Formula 1.

If the answer was obvious, this driver would have found it. Likewise Bottas now, against Hamilton. But there are things the data can show you that the brain simply can’t translate into actions on-track.

There’s no doubting Bottas’s raw speed, but as a racing driver he comes up short in a comparison to arguably the greatest ever in F1 – maybe only by a fraction of a percentage, but he comes up short nonetheless.

In truth, there’s no shame in Bottas being bested by the best. And competing in sport requires a mental strength that means he’s probably better equipped to handle it than most.

But it’s a fierce mental blow, one Bottas has taken year after year. That type of barrage cracks even the strongest athlete’s mental armour. And it exposes them not only as just another person, but one forced to do something nobody wants – realise they can’t aren’t quite as good as they want to be, and accept their dream is over.

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