Valtteri Bottas reveals F1 ‘training to pain’ sparked an eating disorder

Michelle Foster
Valtteri Bottas places his hand to his head. Abu Dhabi, December 2021.

Valtteri Bottas places his hand to his head, while looking at the camera in the Alfa Romeo garage. Abu Dhabi, December 2021.

Valtteri Bottas has revealed he suffered with an eating disorder during the early stages of his Formula 1 career as the then Williams driver trained “to pain, physically and mentally”.

Bottas joined the grid in 2013, racing for Williams after a year on the sidelines as their reserve driver.

It was a big leap forward for the Finn who in 2011 won the GP3 title, skipped Formula 2 to head straight into Formula 1.

But it came at a price as he pushed too hard, admitting today the exercise and eating became an “addiction”.

“I trained myself to pain, physically and mentally,” he said in an episode for season two of the Maria Veitola series. “It got out of hand, and it became an addiction.

“No eating disorder was officially diagnosed, but it was definitely there.” recommends

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Determined to drop his weight, even below what was considered healthy, in order to be the best, Bottas would live on steamed broccoli.

“It wasn’t very healthy,” he says. “I wanted to be the best, and I thought I had to do that.

“If the team says that I have to weigh 68 kilos and I naturally weigh 73 kilos, then they will do everything for that.”

Seeking help, he said: “I needed a psychologist to help me recover, whose first assessment of me was that I’m almost like a robot who only wants to reach his goal and has no feelings at all.

“It startled me. It’s true that at that time I had no other life than F1.”

That, however, wasn’t the only time Bottas sought help from a psychologist.

Last season he swapped from the race-winning Mercedes team to Alfa Romeo, at best a midfield runner, a decision that he agonised over as he wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted.

He also didn’t know at the time if leaving Mercedes meant the end of his Formula 1 career.

“That season was more difficult again, when the future was on the line and I didn’t know which team I would drive for. It was a big threshold to ask for outside help,” says Bottas.

“That’s what you think when you’re such a tough guy that you don’t need help, that I can take care of things by looking in the mirror. But a professional knows how to ask the right questions and open a lot of locks.”

“I’m not the only one there who sometimes has a hard time,” he added.

Drivers more open to speaking about mental health issues

These days the Formula 1 drivers are more open about speaking about their mental health issues as, like the rest of us, they’re only human.

Lando Norris has been a staunch advocate for mental health, recently telling GQ: “It was a choice [to speak about mental health], because I struggled quite a bit with it in 2019 and 2020.

“I just didn’t know how to deal with it. I kept all of it inside and it really hurt my self-belief and self-confidence, which got to an all-time low.

“I doubted myself: ‘Am I good enough to be in Formula One? Can I come back from this?’

“You’re never going to please everyone. There are people that support you and people that don’t. I know I’m doing the best I can.

“A few people said that I had saved their life. That hits you pretty hard.”

Last season Lewis Hamilton revealed he too had struggled, taking to social media to write: “I have struggled mentally and emotionally for a long time, to keep going is a constant effort but we have to keep fighting, we have so much to do and to achieve.

“I’m writing to tell you it’s okay to feel the way you do, just know that you are not alone and we are gonna get through this.”

Former driver Daniel Ricciardo admitted he was suffering with burnout during his two-years with McLaren, telling the Daily Mail: “I started to speak to a psychologist last year.

“I was neglecting friendships and thought it would be good to talk to someone to make sure the two sides of my life didn’t cross over. It was hard to remove yourself from what was happening in the racing.”

That the Formula 1 drivers are speaking up about their issues can only be good for Formula 1 fans, if it’s okay for their heroes to get help then there really should be no stigma in regard to speaking with a psychologist.