I have to confess I like Valterri Bottas, the deep thinking, quietly spoken, gentlemanly and skilful Finn who figures on just about every top team’s wish-list if he decides to quit Williams.
His emergence as a racer of tremendous promise off the back of some fearless confrontations, especially with fellow countryman and notorious hard-case Kimi Raikkonen, is a highlight of special significance.
And while the 1-2-3 of the championship — Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel — has been settled, fourth place is up for grabs.
OK, I know that plenty of drivers and spectators could not care less about being outside the top three. Not Bottas. No way.
He wants that fourth place. Badly. And he is going to go for it flat out with a level of aggression and determination that will give the Abu Dhabi showdown a special significance and spectacular flourish for the sell-out crowd.
Not the least because the driver who will be anxious to wreck his dreams of final glory is his season-long tormentor Raikkonen, Ferrari’s number two after Vettel.
After a series of ding-dongs, close-call clashes and near misses there is a single point between them. Bottas, in fourth place, is on 136 points, Raikkonen, fifth, has 135.
Former world champion Raikkonen, a cold-eyed veteran of 230 races with 20 victories and 79 podiums, never imagined that his progress to save his job with the Italian legends could be hampered by thoroughly nice guy Bottas, 26, ten years his junior, who has a comparatively lowly 54 GP starts on his record.
Bottas has been twice third, Mexico and Canada, this season and Raikkonen’s best finish a second place in Bahrain with a share-out of fourth and fifth spots between them.
Raikkonen: Master of the laconic
The question of whether fourth place in the title chase matters to him is met with a shrug and the usual blank faced response from Raikkonen, a master of the laconic.
In contrast Bottas covets the idea of being the best of the rest and says: “I go into the last race of the championship in fourth place, just one point ahead of fifth, Kimi Raikkonen.
“I know many people would say it is not important to finish fourth, fifth or sixth in the championship. But I don’t look at it that way. If I can’t be in the top three I want to be the next and for me every position is important.
“I want to finish as high up as I can, as close as possible to the top three if I can’t be one of them. And that for me is the only way to go.
“That is why I am completely focused on this race. It will certainly be close between me and Kimi and whoever finishes in front of the other will be fourth.
“That will make for an exciting race. OK, the title has been settled and there is nothing but pride to play for among the top three guys, but the outcome of the race and the finish for the rest of us to be next in line is crucial.
“I expect I shall be as competitive as I was when I was third in Abu Dhabi last year — and that’s my hope, my aim, my promise to myself.
“I want to sign off in style and be on the podium here again.”
His team boss Pat Symonds says: “When a driver gets into the F1 level it is a given certainty that he has the ability to drive quickly. But that doesn’t define what it takes to be a winner, to take the world title. Many other aspects are needed such as intelligence, a fine work ethic and attention to detail. Valterri displays all those qualities in abundance.
“It is also important for any elite sportsman to have a high level of self-esteem. He has that as well — but balances it with humility. He is laid-back and is always learning and keenly taking in guidance. He will only get better.”
Monaco-based Bottas’s hero and mentor Mikka Hakkinen, twice the world champion, is the calm figure of encouragement behind the scenes.
So what is the best piece of advice double-champion Hakkinen has had for his fellow Finn?
“He told me, ‘Trust your talent’,” Botas said.
In that case his future as a champion-to-be is virtually guaranteed...
— The author is a motorsports expert.