Next level: New Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has been dreaming of winning the F1 title since the age of six. Picture: REUTERS
Next level: New Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has been dreaming of winning the F1 title since the age of six. Picture: REUTERS

Helsinki — Valtteri Bottas was just six years old when he started go-kart racing, a little Finnish boy dreaming of winning a Formula One title.

On Sunday, that dream moves a step closer to reality when Bottas starts on the grid in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton’s new teammate at Mercedes.

In January, the all-conquering German constructor cherry-picked Bottas to replace their retired German champion Nico Rosberg, giving the 27-year-old "Finntastic" the added horsepower that he will need to become the fourth Finn to win an F1 world championship.

Rosberg’s Finnish father, Keijo "Keke" Rosberg, won in 1982, followed by Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999, and Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

Born on August 28 1989 in Nastola, a small lake-side community, Bottas honed his driving skills on muddy and icy roads.

One of the greats of Finnish motor sport, rally world champion Ari Vatanen, described Bottas as a level-headed, "trustworthy" person, the kind of guy you want on your team. "He is very analytical and calm. Credible, without any diva attitudes, a guy with his feet firmly on the ground," Vatanen said.

After completing his basic education, Bottas studied car mechanics at vocational school, continuing his racing career on the side. By 2009, at the age of 19, the talented young driver was already competing in Formula Three.

At the time, the confident adolescent boasted that within five years, he would be driving a F1 car that would allow him to win the world title.

In 2010, Williams made him their F1 test driver and for the 2013 season, he became the second Finn after Keke Rosberg to race for Williams.

It has taken more than five years for him to earn a drive in a car capable of winning the title, but now he does at Mercedes.

"When you can make it to … a team that is on top of the mountain, winning championships and able to win races, then it is up to you only," ex-champion Hakkinen, once a member of Bottas’s management team, told Finnish channel MTV as speculation mounted about Mercedes eyeing Bottas.

Bottas, who as a child played ice hockey, Finland’s national sport, and who in his free time enjoys skeet shooting and cycling, has raced in 77 F1 Grands Prix, but he has yet to stand atop the podium.

Mercedes, who won three consecutive constructor titles from 2014, said they hoped for a good fit between Bottas and British triple world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"I am sure we are going to be close and we are going to be both pushing each other forward," the Finn said after joining the team.

When news of the Finn’s move emerged, Vatanen said he was confident Bottas would hold his own against Hamilton.

The Briton, who is more familiar with the car, having spent the past four years with Mercedes, would have "a clear head start" to the season, but Bottas would "also fare well", Vatanen predicted.

AFP

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