F1’s Valtteri Bottas on Baku, love of coffee, new chapter with Alfa Romeo

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Valtteri Bottas is known for many things.

A veteran of the Formula 1 circuit, he is entering his 10th season; A calm but determined rider with 10 wins, 20 poles and 67 podiums. The former team-mate of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was born in Finland, is now joining the third team in his legendary F1 career: Alfa Romeo. And the driver with the butt photo, who raised more than $50,000 for charity.

Known for his love of cycling and coffee, he gravitates towards flat whites and espressos but doesn’t use sugar. What some Formula 1 fans may not know is that his passion has reached a new level during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is co-owner of Kahiwa coffee roasting plant in Lahti, Finland.

The 32-year-old travels to Baku, Azerbaijan, convinced that Alfa Romeo has the potential to “fight forward” as a seven-race podium still hints at Bottas. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been a rollercoaster ride for him in recent years – in 21 he finished 12th, 19 he won, 18 he lost the lead after driving through debris and in 17 he narrowly passed Lance Stroll to finish second.

Could Sunday be when Formula 1 fans see the full potential of the package and Bottas’ Alfa Romeo era?

While F1 goes to Baku, sports illustrated spoke to the coffee enthusiast about his passion off the grid, key parts of the street circuit to keep an eye on this weekend and more.

Bottas, a coffee enthusiast, wanted to give his new team Alfa Romeo a jolt this season.

Fuel for Thought is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive Q&A featuring the biggest names in Formula 1. The following questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Sports Illustrated: How is Baku?

Valtteri Bottas: Baku is sunny. It’s pretty warm. The track looks the same as in previous years. No real changes on the track.

SI: How do you feel about not having changes to the track?

VB: It’s nice to have differences and changes sometimes, but I think this track works the way it is. It was always quite an interesting race, mainly because of the long straights. It opens up opportunities for overtaking and with the technical sections and the track being a street circuit it’s quite unpredictable. People make mistakes and things happen, so it’s a good place for a Grand Prix.

SI: What should we pay attention to in Baku? Which part of the route is the most difficult and why?

VB: The most challenging part is the section in the middle of the route that leads to the old town. It’s super tight and it’s pretty hard to judge, especially these days with the big new cars, how close you are to the wall in some places. So I think we’ll probably see some mistakes from drivers there. And what’s also going to be pretty important this weekend is the power and speed and trying to avoid porpoises, the cars bouncing up and down the straight. The teams that can dodge here will have an advantage because of the long and bumpy straights.

It’s going to be difficult to predict where we’ll be as a team, but hopefully we’ll be fighting for some solid points again.

SI: What is this feeling like in the porpoise?

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VB: You will definitely feel it the next day. But luckily our car wasn’t that bad, so we didn’t have any major problems. That’s how ground effect works, and when it starts to get unstable, that’s what happens. But I think every team has already learned how to avoid it.

SI: What was it like adjusting to the car this season with all the new changes in the technical regulations?

VB: Actually easier than I thought. There were some changes and the whole philosophy of the aerodynamics of the cars is different, but actually it wasn’t that different from the driver’s point of view. The main thing you feel is that the car is a bit heavier, so it feels a bit sluggish in a way, like changing direction. But the tire is actually not that different.

I would say the most important thing for me was getting used to the new team, because for example all the functions in the steering wheel are completely different from what I’m used to, the terms we talk about the car and the configuration.

SI: How did you adjust to the new team, especially mentally?

VB: I mentally started on a whole new page. All the experience I’ve had in four years at Williams and five years at Mercedes, and just one new chapter. Reset all goals for the season and make it your main goal to progress while having fun. I think we succeeded and we scored consistently. It was a lot of fun, but also to see the motivation in the team that everyone somehow wants a little bit more now. It’s really very healthy.

The feeling for me right now is that I definitely don’t want to be anywhere else.

SI: Is there a race this season that you’re particularly proud of, even though we’re still at the beginning?

VB: It is still early. I would say the first race was really incredible. You know, along with a team and both cars scoring points. That was pretty amazing. But then some of the qualifying results like in Miami – that was pretty nice. I think the best result is yet to come.

Valtteri Bottas, Monaco F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2022

Bottas came to Alfa Romeo with a fresh attitude.

SI: Looking back at Monaco, a lot happened this weekend. Can you talk about it and what it was like to be in the car, especially with all the stop and go’s on a Sunday?

VB: It was quite strange because obviously the race was delayed because of the rain. And then it got delayed further and no one really understood why some of the delays were like that. It’s going to be tough once we get going because Monaco is probably the most difficult track to drive in the wet. Staying on track is a challenge. Then in dry conditions as a rider you start to push more, you start to push more and it’s so easy to make a mistake. But the most important thing was that you see the checkered flag. Also from a strategic point of view, I think we made the right decision with the tire at the right time, so we gained a position. In the end, from 12th place to a few points in Monaco are actually good results.

SI: A simple but profound question: Who are you?

VB: I’m Valtteri from a small town in Finland and I love car racing. This is my passion. But at the same time I also like to do things in my life that make me happy and always just follow the passion. I love my family, my friends. I love traveling and coffee.

SI: What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of racing? Do you have a happy place outside of the car?

VB: I love cycling, I’m quite a cyclist and my girlfriend is a pro. So for me it’s a nice hobby, something different than Formula 1. And actually it’s a really nice way to see and explore places and nature. I like traveling. So when I have downtime, I’m often not that good at staying still, so I like to keep moving.

SI: Do you have a favorite place that you like to travel to?

VB: My hometown in Finland, city called Lahti. It’s beautiful, by the lake, really pure nature and fresh, clean water. And it’s a place I keep coming back to. The same throughout northern Finland. It’s really quite epic, quite arctic environment in winter. And also Colorado in the US is always a place I return to and next time I plan to go during August break.

SI: What question would you like to ask yourself and how would you answer it?

VB: How do I drink my coffee in the morning? It’s usually quite routine. When I’m home I have a flat white, which is a double espresso, and then some frothed milk with hopefully some latte art on top. And then I drink a double espresso after breakfast. And then maybe a flat white.

SI: How did you get into latte art?

VB: I’m actually co-owner of a coffee roastery in Finland. It’s called Kahiwa. And when I met these guys, they were really professional with latte art and all that stuff. So I’ve learned a few things, but there’s still a long way to go to get to a good consistent level. But it’s a lot of fun.

SI: What advice would you like to give to the next generation? Because it’s a lot harder these days, especially with the pressure of social media.

VB: In life I think it’s important to try to be around and hang out with people you really want and do the same on social media. I know it’s easy to say I don’t care what people say, but I really don’t care what people say. Actually, my strategy now with social media is that I post things and that’s it. I have never read anything. I want to share some things about my life but I don’t want to open the comments. I don’t want to see what people say because when I was a little younger I learned that there is a lot of negativity and it can get to you. So just stay away. Otherwise just be with people, do things that make you happy – together. And try to avoid people with bad energy and prefer people with good energy. In the end it’s pretty easy because the good energy spreads and then everyone is happy.

SI: How did you get into the coffee business?

VB: I’ve always been a big coffee drinker, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit I hadn’t been to Finland for a while. I went to Finland, my hometown, and I saw that there was this coffee roastery that I had never heard of before. It was called A New One and I ordered beans from them. But then they sent me like ground coffee. So that’s what I called her I ordered beans. Can I just come and pick them up? So I picked her up. We started chatting with a guy and I shared my passion for coffee and he shared their story of the roastery. And two weeks later I was one of the owners of the company, so it just kind of worked. We decided to do things together and we have some big plans for the future and try to expand not only in Finland but also in the world. Now we are already shipping worldwide online.

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