So Valtteri Bottas became the 107th different driver to win a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix on Sunday. The 5th from Finland, which is pretty astounding since we’ve only ever had 8 Finnish drivers race in the sport, and the first time we’ve had two Finns on the podium since Heiki Kovalainen won in Hungary in 2008.
I do like a good stat as you may know by now, but I also like to see good guys do well, so behind the stats the mere fact that Valtteri was stood on the top step of the podium was more than enough to put a smile on my face in Sochi on Sunday afternoon.
“If I didn’t think I could beat Lewis then I should stay at home” the race winner had told Ted Kravitz in a feature we broadcast on Sky F1 in our pre-race build up. It was a lovely feature too, where Valtteri took Ted back to his home town, showed him where he first went Karting, his school, the restaurant where they serve up the Bottas Burger, and also where our intrepid Paddock Reporter ended up in a frozen lake, all in the line of duty.
It was a rare insight into the life of a man who calmly and quietly goes about his business, week after week. Not one of life’s most outgoing characters, but one who always says hello when we pass each other in the Paddock, is always respectful of others and who, and I think this is the most important bit, always has a smile on his face.
He loves what he does for a living, he’s damn good at it too and through Nico Rosberg’s retirement, has found himself in a position this season, challenging for poles and race wins, that 12 months ago he wouldn’t have thought was going to come his way.
I remember interviewing Sir Frank Williams in 2013, Valtteri’s first season with him as a race driver and there was a sparkle in Frank’s eyes as he spoke about him. How he regarded the Finn to have enough potential to be a future world champion, he’d won the GP3 title in 2011 of course, but his Team Principal saw far greater moments on the horizon. Sadly for Sir Frank it was unlikely to be with Williams that Valtteri would get that chance, but it always stuck with me as to just how highly he rated him.
And if you look at how the members of the Williams team reacted to his win in Sochi, it’s clear that he is a driver that they still feel very fondly about and as he stood spraying the sparkling wine (can’t say Champagne these days, those are not bottles of Champers in the drivers hands) into his mouth, celebrating in brilliant fashion, I don’t know of anybody who begrudged him that emotional moment.
Valtteri has taken his maiden pole, and now his first win, getting away brilliantly off the line and pulling off a super move on Vettel into Turn 2. He coped fantastically with the pressure as Seb came back strongly at him in the closing stages, and he has stopped all the chat of him being a number 2 driver for a while in the process.
He will remember the 2017 Russian Grand Prix for many many years to come, sadly he may be the only one that does.
So here’s a question for you. What do the Monaco Grand Prix 2003, USA Grand Prix 2005, European Grand Prix in Valencia in 2009 and the 2017 Russian Grand Prix have in common?
They are all races to feature exactly 0 overtakes after the first lap which in the case of Indianapolis you can half excuse because there were only 6 cars racing that day!
I’ve said that I’ll wait to give a proper judgement on the new regulations and after the exciting races of China and Bahrain, it’s important not to get carried away. Just as it was important not to be overly critical after Australia.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Sochi, the tension of the final few laps was brilliant to witness and I will always look for the positives. But it wasn’t great and, sadly, it was the sort of race that was feared at the outset.
So as we head to Barcelona for the start of the European season, and teams bring their ‘B’ Spec packages, trying to makes amends in areas where they feel they are going wrong – and in Red Bull’s case, trying to salvage something from a season where they were expected to be challenging Mercedes but quite clearly aren’t at the moment – that might be the right time to properly assess whether the new regulations really were a good idea, or whether somebody really should have thought about their impact on the racing.
It’s great to see a new winner in the sport, but to have a race decided by his move on the pole sitter into the first real corner of the first lap, that’s not what F1 should be about.