Valtteri Bottas is a driver deserving of his nine Grand Prix wins. The talented Finn proved his worth almost immediately in Formula 1, winning every teammate battle he entered during his time at Williams.
His debut season with the team saw him beat the experienced Pastor Maldonado in an underperforming machine, a machine he was able to steer to an eighth-place finish in Austin.
His next challenge came from Felipe Massa, one of the greatest drivers never to be crowned World Champion, a challenge he cleared without fault.
The reward was a move to Mercedes, where he rejoined forces with Toto Wolff following Nico Rosberg's sudden and unexpected retirement.
But Bottas arrived following years of tension at Mercedes, where blood had turned bad between Rosberg and teammate/rival Lewis Hamilton. He would never be the main man with the Brackley-based team and, while Hamilton's future was always assured, Bottas was offered only one-year contracts.
Nine Grand Prix wins later, the one-year contract offers would end with the Finn being told that he would be replaced by George Russell at the end of the 2021 season: another season spent trying to win Hamilton the World Championship.
Bottas' desire for assurances opened the door for Alfa Romeo to swoop as Frederic Vasseur, who has known the Finn personally for 15 years, offered him a multi-year deal and a fresh start.
Seven races later and Bottas, with a lower-midfield team, has finished inside the points every time he has reached the chequered flag and is just ten points behind old friend Hamilton in the F1 standings. There are few who could have predicted that.
Speaking during an intimate media interview, to which RacingNews365.com was invited, Vasseur said: "For me, he has done a perfect job since the beginning of the season. We had some issues at the start, but that was because we had had a huge lack of mileage over the winter. He has done a fantastic job."
Bottas the leader, after years playing sidekick
After years spent trying to close the gap to his Mercedes teammate, Bottas has now built a lead of his own over Alfa rookie Zhou Guanyu. His aim is not to obliterate the youngster, however, with both drivers looking to push the team onwards and upwards with a podium finish almost in sight.
Bottas; move to Alfa Romeo has allowed him to become a leader: on track, in the garage and back at the factory, where his presence is key.
"The added value he has brought to the team is much more outside of the car. It's in the briefings and in the factory. It is a fact that he always thinks of the team and not about himself. He is always trying to get the best out of the 500 people who work at the factory," said Vasseur.
"Every time he comes to the simulator (in Switzerland), he spends two hours more doing a tour of the factory, department by department. He is trying to motivate the guys. That's the invisible part of the job, but for me it's mega.
"We are a smaller team than the others because we probably have about 250 people less than teams like Alpine or Williams. We need the best from everyone. Valtteri, and teammate Zhou also, are doing a fantastic job.
"He is convinced that he has to be part of providing that motivation. When he comes, he gets on stage and speaks to everyone. It is very difficult to put a value on that in terms of lap time, but it is crucial. We have to be more reactive and efficient than the other teams because we are smaller. For me, it is an added value of mega importance."
How Bottas has become chief motivator at Alfa
And he has certainly delivered in providing that motivation, says Vasseur, who has witnessed Bottas staying hours longer than needed at the factory to cheer on staff members of all shapes and sizes.
"He motivates everyone in the team, from the security guards to production, engineers, and aerodynamicists, but also the marketing department and the financial department," he explained.
"In our business, it works a bit differently than at other companies in the world. Other companies have a quarterly report, or something similar, but we have weekly reviews (on track), which are also public.
"Then you have all those journalists here when things don't go well," he said, laughing. "The most important thing for me, however, is that the staff must be convinced that they are part of the result. If they think they're not, then they lose part of that motivation.
"If we do our work well as a team, we come into the picture more often, we attract new sponsors and we get more budget that helps with development. That is the key to success. Bottas is able to transmit this message to the people in the factory."
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'I knew he would be a different person out of Hamilton's shadow'
Bottas' final years at Mercedes were not without criticism. When Mercedes dominated, he failed to put pressure on Hamilton as fans longed for a title fight worth tuning in for.
But Vasseur, watching on with intrigue, was always convinced that a step out of Hamilton's shadow is all that it would take for Bottas to blossom - and he was right.
"I am not surprised. We have had a professional relationship for over fifteen years. Valtteri drove for me in 2008 or 2009, for the first time. We know each other very well and we always stayed in touch," he said.
"I don't want to make any comparisons with Mercedes because they have been champions seven years in a row. But he was always there in the shadow of Hamilton and I was convinced that he would be a very different guy when he became the leader.
"I think he has taken this direction" he added, proud of his driver as Bottas enjoys his fresh chapter.
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