Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou couldn’t be more different, but they make a formidable pair. Thanks to mutual respect, as they explain to us in this double interview
May 26, 2023
TOthe first is a fashion enthusiast, the second a habitué of cycling businesses, Guanyu Zhou and Valtteri Bottas they couldn’t be more different than that. But when we meet the two Alfa Romeo drivers in Formula 1 in the glam setting of the Hotel Meridien Beach in Montecarlo, we cannot help but notice their complicity. Teammates since last year, Zhou and Valtteri immediately built a relationship of mutual trust. Which is anything but obvious, given the hyper-competitive environment in which they work.
“We support each other because we are a team – Bottas tells us a few meters from the “little sister” of his C43, the Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV, which has also landed in these parts -. One lesson I’ve learned over my years in F1 is that long-term progress takes team spirit. The riders have to work together, it’s essential. It all starts with respect: if it’s mutual, then it works. F1 is a team sport. With individual components, but always as a team”.
And Bottas’ support was key to Zhou making his debut last year. “Valtteri helped me a lot in my first season, when everything was new to me – she recalls-. It was very transparent, and it was definitely important to me. In some teams there is a lot of conflict. Every rider wants to be the best, but respect is needed, and there has always been between us. There is mutual trust, and we help the team together. Sometimes we have to compromise, but the most important thing is to grow.”
LZhou’s opportunity to demonstrate how much he has matured in the last 12 months arrives right on the tricky streets of the Principality. “Last year it was the first time I raced in Monaco with an F1 – he explains -. This year will be a big step forward for me as a rider, given that on a track like this at the debut in a category it takes some time to adapt. There’s no room for mistakes and you have to find the right pace over the course of the weekend”.
“I feel a lot more confident this year in general, and on tracks like this it can make a big difference. You have to be sure that every detail is right, because the battle in the middle of the table is very close. You can easily go from eighth to last position with very little. It’s very intense”. “Racing in Monaco in F1 represents a very big step forward – he adds – both in terms of handling, but also in the approach to the corners and trajectories, which are slightly different. The experience accumulated last year will help me stay closer to the walls, to have more safety, to know exactly what the car will do”.
But also the expert Bottas he says he learned important lessons for Monaco in his first race in the Principality with Alfa last year. “It wasn’t an easy race for us in terms of performance. We learned a lot of things, how to set up the car, what we did wrong with the setup especially from a mechanical point of view, since it is a very challenging track, with very slow curves and rough terrain, characteristics that are not present in the other tracks”.
mMonte-Carlo, then, is a track that could smile on Alfa Romeo, given that the C43 has so far proved to be more effective in qualifying than in the race and that in Monaco Saturday is the real crucial day. “Monaco is probably the track where the position in qualifying is most important, given that it is almost impossible to overtake in the race – explains Bottas -. It is encouraging that our performance on Sunday improved slightly in Miami compared to previous races and we hope that this positive trend can continue. But undoubtedly here the performance in qualifying is favored over the race”.
Zhou also agrees. “Monaco is obviously quite different to the other races. I think Saturday is the most important day here, unless there are some surprises in the running or for the weather to change. Without these unexpected events, it is unlikely that you will be able to pass more than one or two cars in the race. It was important for us to make a quantum leap in Miami, especially since there have been no updates for that race. I hope there is a further step forward, building on last year’s experience. The important thing will be to give the maximum on Saturday, to be able to collect points”.
In this sense they will also help the updates initially planned for Imola, which will make their debut in the Principality. “Munich isn’t the easiest place to figure out how well an upgrade works, both in terms of dry performance and sensations, because it’s a unique track – concedes Bottas -. In this case, it should be a general improvement in terms of downforce, without affecting the balance too much. We’ll probably start the first free practice session with the old package and then we’ll adopt the new one, to carry out comparison work”.
TONet of the novelties, Monaco is not a trivial challenge, even in terms of concentration. “From a mental point of view, Monte Carlo is one of the most difficult races, if not the most difficult on the calendar – reflects Valtteri -. The track is so narrow, winding. A small mistake, a second in which you lose concentration is enough to end your qualification or the race. It’s a difficult weekend, you need to be extremely concentrated right from the first free practice and you can’t afford mistakes. On wider slopes, with large run-off areas, the approach is less stressful. It’s a challenge, but an exciting one, especially qualifying.”
“I believe that the peak of beats per minute of the whole season is reached in Munich – adds Zhou -. Even in the rounds of cool down you can never relax. There are no straights, the track is all curves. And then you have to be careful who is in his lap launched. There is no margin for error here. On other slopes you can slightly exceed the limit, not here. It’s essential to feel comfortable with the car, it helps a lot especially in qualifying. I really like this track.” And Bottas, who is at home on the roads of the Principality, also feels at ease on this track. “I know them very well, I travel them by car or by bike. I’ve seen what they’ve resurfaced, I know where the bumps are. All in all, it’s a small advantage.”
With his bushy mustache and the mullet, which have now become his trademark, Bottas is a different man from the one we had met in Mercedes. It is not just a question of style, but of a different disposition of mind. “I definitely feel free to be myself – he observes -. It’s one thing that comes with age, you learn a lot about yourself. But undoubtedly the working environment is also important. I enjoy it, but my goal is always to win, to get back on the podium. But I found an excellent balance between F1 and my private life”.
AND if Valtteri now lives his competitive maturity with a different spirit, Zhou, just 24 years old, already shows a great personality, especially when it comes to style. Testimonial of Dior in China, in the paddock he is Lewis Hamilton’s rival in terms of outfits. Her passion for fashion, she tells us, comes from far away: “when she was younger my mother was a stylist for a while, perhaps this interest is in my DNA. When I was little I wore basketball shoes like Kobe Bryant, but as I got older I became more and more passionate about fashion and I would like to have my own streetwear brand worldwide one day. Wearing something designed by me drawing inspiration from some artists and my surroundings would be fantastic”.
One day Valtteri could be his role model, we suggest to Zhou. Which raises: “Maybe I can even be a stylist for Valtteri!”. “I’m in,” Bottas replies with blue eyes that light up with a playful light. Seeing them together, we can’t help but think how the environment in which we work can change everything, both for us mere mortals and for the demigods of F1. And how a well-matched pair of drivers can grow together, starting from that mutual respect which, by Zhou and Bottas’ own admission, made the difference in their case.