Formula One star Valterri Bottas on Liam Lawson, long-term plans and why he's embraced life 'down under'

Valterri Bottas.
Valterri Bottas. Photo credit: Getty Images

From spectators to armchair enthusiasts to the pit itself, Kiwi Liam Lawson turned plenty of heads with his debut foray into Formula One last season - among them one of the grid's most respected competitors.

Incumbent AlphaTauri driver Daniel Ricciardo's broken hand opened the door for Lawson to showcase his wares on the sport's biggest stage, and the Aucklander burst through with a series of performances that instantly earmarked him as one of Formula One's most promising young drivers.

On just one day's notice, the 21-year-old Aucklander was thrust into the hot seat and responded by powering AlphaTauri from the back of the grid to a respectable 13th place finish in his debut drive, becoming the youngest New Zealander in 43 years to race an F1 car.

He backed that up with an 11th placing in Italy and Japan, before earning his team their first points of the season to date in Singapore, where he qualified ahead of Red Bull stablemate and reigning champion Max Verstappen to bolt home in ninth place - a drive that raised the collective eyebrows of the F1 world.

Amid Lawson's admirers is veteran Valterri Bottas.  The Finnish flier is one of the sport's most decorated and experienced drivers - with 10 wins and 67 podiums to his credit - the majority of which came alongside seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

Liam Lawson.
Liam Lawson. Photo credit: Getty Images

After 222 starts in over a decade on the F1 circuit, Bottas understandably has an eye for genuine talent on the track and admits Lawson left an undeniable impression on him - particularly with his short-notice debut in the Netherlands, where torrential rain added an extra level of complexity for him to negotiate in the quintessential baptism of fire.

"I think [Lawson] did a really solid job," Bottas told Newshub.

"Obviously, he didn't have that much time to prepare. The first race with the mixed conditions.

"I'm actually surprised that he even made it. It's not easy to keep the car on the track with slicks if it's raining like that. So, I think he did a really solid job for a rookie.  

"He's young but still seems quite mature and he seems like a nice guy as well.

"Hats off to him."

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Lawson's stint came in the way he consistently outperformed his AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda. He finished ahead of the Japanese driver in each of his five starts.

That trend saw the chorus begin to grow for Lawson to be awarded with a fulltime drive for 2024, only to ultimately be overlooked, as AlphaTauri chose to recommit to Ricciardo and Tsunoda for another year.

Valterri Bottas with Lewis Hamilton celebrating one of many Mercedes' successes.
Valterri Bottas with Lewis Hamilton celebrating one of many Mercedes' successes. Photo credit: Getty Images

Bottas believes Lawson had done enough to earn a promotion to a permanent position. Newshub understands Red Bull - who oversee AlphaTauri - already had both their incumbents locked in for renewal, sentiment Bottas backs up.  

He admits that factor would've worked heavily against the Kiwi's favour - part of the pit wall politics he says would also have included the obvious link between the team's Japanese engine manufacturer Honda and Japanese driver Tsunoda.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo is arguably F1's most marketable driver,  playing a key part of the sport's explosion in popularity through Netflix's Drive to Survive documentary series.  

"I think he did great and he would have deserved it. But if something is already kind of pre-planned by the team, it's tricky to change their minds.  

"I'm pretty sure that it was kind of fixed - they just had to commit.

"Obviously there are politics as well - what nationality you are. If you're Japanese and if you drive for Honda, it kind of helps.

"Sometimes there's things that are out of your control."

Valterri Bottas in action last season.
Valterri Bottas in action last season. Photo credit: Getty Images

Next season, Lawson will revert to his role as reserve driver with Red Bull, where he'll bide his time until another opportunity eventually - and as it seems, inevitably - comes his way.

Hailing from the relatively smaller nation of Finland, Bottas is all too familiar with the challenges faced by drivers outside of the traditional powerhouse nations and the perils of walking the unforgiving and fickle tightrope of opportunity.

That said, Lawson is now - at the very least - a proven commodity.

"With Red Bull, obviously if you perform - you can really show that you can do great things - then eventually you should end up in F1.  

"But at the same time, it can be harsh because they have such a big selection of drivers. They have lots of resources, lots of young drivers, so you really need to try to stand out and how to do that. is not always easy.  

"Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time and things just happen, you know, and to get to F1, you even need a bit of luck sometimes as well.

"[Lawson] did everything he could with the opportunities he had and now the future will show. You never know what kind of opportunities there will be. And if the team wants to replace a driver, at least they know what he can do."

Valterri Bottas with Australian partner Tiffany Cromwell before last year's las Vegas Grand Prix.
Valterri Bottas with Australian partner Tiffany Cromwell before last year's las Vegas Grand Prix. Photo credit: Getty Images

In regards to his own prospects, Bottas is feeling bullish about wiping the slate clean with newly branded team Stake - the outfit formerly known as Alfa Romeo.

The team had to find a new name for the next two seasons after its contract with Alfa Romeo was not extended beyond 2023 ahead of the arrival of full Audi branding in 2026.

Bottas is currently in Adelaide where he's spent most of his offseason indulging in two of his other passions - riding his road bike alongside partner and Australian Olympic cyclist Tiffany Cromwell and getting his hands dirty curating his new range of wine Ihana, which he's created in partnership with the iconic Oliver's Taranga vineyard in the heart of South Australian wine country.

Cycling has been a welcome outlet for Bottas, providing both a means of escaping the pressures of the F1 world while simultaneously benefitting his capabilities as a driver - and vice versa.

Valterri Bottas takes to his beloved bike during the Tour Down Under.
Valterri Bottas takes to his beloved bike during the Tour Down Under. Photo credit: Getty Images

He's launched his own gravel riding league in his native Finland and will attempt to qualify for the UCI Gravel World Championships in October,

"As a form of training for endurance it's great because you're always alert - you need to watch the road, you need to be on," explained Bottas, who was in the thick of the supporters during his partner Cromwell's bid at Adelaide's Tour Down Under earlier this week.

"Let's say you can't zone off like example on the treadmill. So at least your brain is kind of still active.  

Then mentally, it's kind of way to escape the hectic F1 lifestyle - just getting out in nature on the ride for a few hours. It's super refreshing.

"On the other side, I know about lines and corner ideas, and I'm not really afraid of speed in the descents and stuff like that.   

"That fitness that I get on the bike and that endurance, it helps - especially in the hotter conditions [on the F1 track], I feel like I might have an upper hand."

Bottas shows off his signature South Australian-grown wine Ihana.
Bottas shows off his signature South Australian-grown wine Ihana. Photo credit: Supplied

Entering his 11th season at the age of 34 years old, Bottas insists his competitive drive is still firing on all cylinders and retirement is yet to enter mindspace.

While Hamilton claimed the lion's share of the spoils, Bottas was nonetheless an integral part of helping Mercedes to five constructors' titles. After so many years at the peak of the sport, he admits having to readjust his definition of success has been challenging.

In conjunction with Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu, Bottas' team finished the season in second-to-last place in the constructor's standings with only 16 points scored – the byproduct of a year plagued by mechanical issues.

Without a contract beyond next season, Bottas says Stake's upcoming campaign will be pivotal in determining his next move. He's had a chance to test his new car in a simulator and although he admits it was superior in speed to last year's version – the performance of the production vehicle will tell the full story.

He'll jet off to the team's headquarters in Zurich next week to begin the next stage of pre-season formalities.

"If I stopped enjoying the sport, if it becomes more pain in the ass rather than enjoyment - then for sure, that's going to be time to stop. But it feels like not yet," said Bottas, exuding that trademark even-keeled demeanour that's been such a critical component to his success as a driver.

"One big thing is, obviously how good your car is. I've been in a top team, I've been winning races and being up there. It can be a bit tougher if you're fighting at the back, you know? It's less motivating, for sure.  

"So, I think this season will probably show the direction of the rest of my career that I have left, which way it's going to go. 

"I really hope the car is good and I can be up there and that that is enjoyable and that I can also show my skills, because if you are in the car that doesn't perform, then it's not always easy to show what you can do."

And when it comes time to hand up his steering wheel for good, Bottas may become even more of a regular 'down under'.  

Asides from his obvious ties in Aussie, he and his partner got a taste of Aotearoa last year as guest of good friend and former F1 driver Brendon Hartley, indulging his love of wine on Waiheke Island and in central Otago, as well as hopping on their bikes in Lake Taupo.

You only need to look as far as his recently coiffed and self-proclaimed 'golden mullet' for evidence of how much the 'down under' culture suits him. Laidback and lowkey, you get the sense Bottas is almost pre-destined to end up in this part of the world.

"Absolutely, yes. But when - that's the question. As long as I'm still driving then the base will be within Europe.  

"But then I've got pretty open plan for the future that we'll kind of see where the wind takes us.  

"It's definitely high on the list."

Newshub travelled to Adelaide courtesy of South Australia Tourism.