FLY­ING FINN

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

HEIR AP­PAR­ENT TO THE FINNISH MAN­TLE AND KEEN TO FORGE HIS OWN LEG­END

alt­teri Bot­tas need do noth­ing more than he did in 2014. The wins will come: Wil­liamsMercedes are too punchy for it all to slip away.

The difcult thing, of course, will be to sus­tain a mar­gin over his team-mate, Felipe Massa, some­thing he must do if he is to grad­u­ate to the level of the Hamil­tons, Ric­cia­r­dos and Alon­sos. Valt­teri must out­qual­ify Felipe over a sea­son and also out­race him – as he did in 2014. Felipe, though, is now very dif­fer­ent from the driver who left Fer­rari chas­tened and a lit­tle des­per­ate. He nished 2014 on a high, and that mo­men­tum will carry him through at least to Mel­bourne – and prob­a­bly be­yond if the Wil­liams is quick.

It’s im­por­tant for Valt­teri not to lose con­cen­tra­tion if the year be­gins in Felipe’s favour. It’s un­likely he will, but there’s no ac­count­ing for what pres­sure will do. Valt­teri has so far proved him­self im­mune to out­side forces and I think the group around him – Jonathan Ed­dolls, Di­dier Co­ton, Mika Häkki­nen, Toto Wolff – will con­tinue to pro­tect those walls. Valt­teri needs to be pre­pared in case Felipe be­comes

Vthe rst Wil­liams win­ner since Pas­tor Mal­don­ado. His knock-out punch would have to come at the next race, where – more than ever – he’ll need to out­qual­ify Felipe and then beat him on the Sun­day.

He has the tech­nique to do so. Even in GP3 Valt­teri showed a deft­ness of touch above the F1 av­er­age; and in 2014 he honed that into Lewis-like man­age­ment of chang­ing con­di­tions. His econ­omy of move­ment is com­pelling, par­tic­u­larly at low-speed changeof-di­rec­tion cor­ners and also into medium-speed turns.

Like Felipe, Valt­teri had to spend 2014 down- and up-shift­ing with heavy load on the rear tyres (thanks to Wil­liams’ short gear ra­tios) – but his abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late straight lines where Felipe was still load­ing the car in time be­came a Bot­tas trade­mark. Wil­liams are re­tain­ing their own gear­box cas­ing and in­ter­nals for 2015 and it’s a fair bet that they’ll stretch the ra­tios a bit and that this lit­tle source of Bot­tas ex­pres­sion will in the main fade away. The bet­ter the car, in other words, the harder it will be for Bot­tas to dom­i­nate a quick and reexy driver like Felipe. That’s why he’ll be un­der so much pres­sure.

Bot­tas is now ac­com­plished in trafc, too, with a racer’s sense for what’s next; and then there was the mo­ment he out­mus­cled Fer­nando Alonso on the open­ing lap of the US GP. No longer the quiet rookie, in Austin Valt­teri ar­rived as a rac­ing driver – po­ten­tially a great one.

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