The 2016 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix appeared to be one to forget for Valtteri Bottas.
The Williams driver’s race ended after only six laps of the scheduled 55 due to suspension failure.
But the race’s outcome was to have huge consequences on his career going forward.
Nico Rosberg won the Formula One drivers’ championship by finishing second to Mercedes-GP teammate Lewis Hamilton. The German performed spectacular donuts on the start-finish straight at Yas Marina Circuit post-race as he celebrated his first world title.
But it would prove to be the last competitive action of Rosberg’s career as he chose to retire from the sport days later.
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That left a spot free alongside Hamilton in the dominant Mercedes team, who had just completed their third successive double of winning the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Bottas was still in the UAE, taking part in post-season testing at Yas Marina, when Rosberg retired and the Finn was sure to let Mercedes know of his interest in joining the team.
“I was still in Abu Dhabi when I read the news that Nico was retiring,” Bottas recalled on Tuesday while appearing at a promotional event at the Hugo Boss store in Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.
“I was at the gym at that point as we were testing here a couple of days after the race.
“When I got back to my room I immediately called Toto Wolff [executive director at Mercedes-GP], saying that I want to be in this seat and if there is any way to make it to happen I would really love it and it would be the opportunity of my career.
“It took a while as I was still contracted to Williams but in the end everything turned out to be good and I signed with the team in mid-January.”
The move has pushed Bottas to the front of the grid and he has arrived in the UAE for Sunday’s ninth staging of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix having enjoyed his most successful season in F1.
After four years in the midfield with Williams, he became a race winner with victories in Russia and Austria, has had three pole positions and helped Mercedes to their fourth successive constructors’ title.
The first win came at the 82nd attempt in Sochi in April, and Bottas, whose last race victory had been in GP3 in September 2011, admitted standing on the top step of the podium had taken a while to get used to again.
“It was a nice win and I definitely had to earn it and to beat everyone that day,” Bottas said of a race in which he survived strong pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps.
“Just the feeling you get. You dream about winning since a kid and when you get that first win it took some time to realise it. But once I realised it, it was so cool.”
Being part of the constructors’ title winning effort was also a highlight to Bottas, especially as he felt it had been harder then the previous three won by the team due to the improved form of some of their nearest rivals on the grid.
Mercedes have won 11 times this year, an impressive haul in any season, but down on the 19 won in 2016 and 16 each in 2015 and 2014, Bottas is expecting no let up from Ferrari and Red Bull in 2018.
“The season has been tough,” Bottas said. “There have been many races that Ferrari have had the upperhand, and even lately Red Bull have been really strong so it has definitely not been like the last three years.
“It has been tough and it is only going to get tougher.”
Despite the two race wins, Bottas had targeted greater success as teammate Hamilton won nine times on his way to securing the championship with two races to spare.
“Only two wins unfortunately,” he said of how he assessed the season ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“I was definitely hoping for more like I said, but I am glad I have proven myself and the team signed me up again for next year. Next year’s going to be the same thing. I need to again prove if I am going to stay with the team for a long time.”
Bottas has had the beating of Hamilton on four or five occasions in races this season, but over the season the Briton has had the edge.
“I always knew it was going to be a challenge as Lewis is such a good driver and he is one of the best ever in Formula One,” Bottas said.
“It is always a challenge to be ahead of him. I couldn’t beat him this year but I am working on my weaknesses.”
Being at Mercedes has lifted the attention and demands on his time with the media and corporate sponsors, but Bottas said he enjoys the chance to spend a little time away from the racing.
“I think I am very lucky to meet so many people and go to cool places and nice events,” he said. “I am lucky to be in partnership with Hugo Boss and the team so I enjoy doing these events.”
As to the pressure, Bottas said the accommodating nature of the Mercedes team, whose team factory is based in Brackley, England, ensured he did not feel any excessive expectations on his shoulders.
“I didn’t have much issues with pressure as I felt the whole team was behind me,” he said.
“It has felt like they have been really behind me and I have had so much support from the guys.”