A snowy start to 2021 for Valtteri Bottas at the Arctic Rally
Why did you decide to take part in the Arctic Rally again this year?
I always knew that if I didn't have any other commitments, it's something I wanted to do again, because now I've done it twice before and for me it's such a great challenge and so much fun. The roads are really beautiful and it's just a nice, relaxed event. I really, really enjoyed driving on ice and snow and being out on the winter roads.
Is rallying a good training ground for F1 during the winter break?
I always feel that when I go rallying, it kind of backs up something else in terms of your driving skills. I think it's important to keep your car control skills in a good shape during the winter break so for me, it's certainly a benefit.
A few F1 drivers have taken part in rallying before: notably Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica. Why do you think the sport appeals to F1 drivers?
Because it's so different I reckon: another challenge. For F1 drivers, rallying is also a bit more relaxed. There are fewer people around and it's fun rather than being too serious for us. I know that many other F1 drivers who would like to go rallying but obviously some are not allowed.
This will be your third consecutive year at the Arctic, having driven a Ford Fiesta WRC and Citroen DS3 WRC before. Did you plan to drive a Hyundai this time?
I did but the Hyundai I was going to drive had quite a big crash at Monza, so that was one issue that meant I'm now going with the Citroen DS3 like last time. But it's also better for the budget, and I have a good experience with the car and the team, so no problem.
What are the similarities and differences in driving styles between F1 and rally?
First of all, rally cars at this level are obviously four-wheel drive, so that makes the driving style quite different and you really need to slide the car sometimes. The lines are quite different but in rallying I'd say the main difference actually comes from the pace notes. Clearly you can't really memorise all the stages, so the biggest difference comes from getting the pace notes correct and being able to trust them at speed. Then you have to drive while you're listening to someone else. In F1, I would say the driving is more precise because we know the lap, the corner and every single kerb and bump by heart, so it's really exact. Rallying is more improvised.
The tyres are the only things connecting the car and the ground in both F1 and rallying: how important are they when it comes to driving on snow and ice?
Pirelli tyres are known for being very good on snow and ice, so, I'm happy to choose Pirelli because I know they've had good results in the past. There's still a lot for me to learn though. For example, the length of the stud can be really crucial but on snow and ice, tyre pressure is really important too. If you get it right, it's actually amazing how much grip you feel in mixed conditions on ice and snow: sometimes it feels more like the car is on gravel.
You obviously know Pirelli's F1 tyres very well, but how about the rally tyres?
I have done previous Arctic rallies with Pirelli tyres so every year I've been learning more about those and now I feel like I have a pretty good understanding. But of course, it's still only two rallies that I've done on snow and ice, so I don't have a big experience.
The Pirelli Sottozero studded tyres are similar to the tyres that are mandatory on the road for almost half the year in places like Finland. How important is it to have tyres capable of dealing with extreme conditions?
It's so important. Tyres can make really a massive difference and in the winter especially, having the right tyres can really save lives. Braking distances vary a lot between normal brands versus the top brands like Pirelli. In tricky conditions, like when it's wet or when it's snow and ice, tyres matter even more both in terms of safety and driving pleasure.
What sort of temperament do you think a racing driver needs to have to compete in different disciplines?
I would say it's a very mental thing. There are physical demands too, but mentally you need the concentration, motivation and the will to always want to improve. You need to be a bit selfish as well as self-critical in everything you do and you need to be really precise. And of course you need to be able to control your emotions.
What are you expecting from the 2021 F1 season?
I'm hoping for a more ‘normal' season and I'm of course hoping for better results. I feel like I had quite a bit of bad luck last year but there were also races where I could have done better. So I hope that I can better than I was last year and chase my dream to become world champion. I'm working on all the little details and looking forward to a busy, busy year: especially with 23 races!