Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas said he almost walked away from Formula 1 after two years racing alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.
The Finn was parachuted in to replace 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg for the 2017 season, with the former Williams driver taking over the second Mercedes seat.
Bottas explained that he had gone into those initial seasons with the mindset of challenging for the Drivers’ Championship, and claimed three wins en route to third place overall in 2017.
However, his 2018 season saw a downturn in form as he fell to fifth overall with no victories – the same year that Lewis Hamilton defeated Sebastian Vettel to claim title glory.
The difficulty of racing alongside Hamilton almost caused Bottas to walk away from the sport, with the Finn revealing he was in a dark place by the time his first two seasons alongside Hamilton had ended.
“At the end of 2018, I almost stopped, it was so close,” he told the Motor Sport Magazine podcast.
“Just because of the fact that I couldn’t understand and take the fact that I couldn’t beat Lewis in those two years.
“I put so much pressure on myself. Towards the end of ’18, especially when I started to have the support role in the team, I really couldn’t take it, I really struggled. It was not fun.
“The last four or five races of ’18 were more painful because you should enjoy F1 and it is pretty cool, but it wasn’t that at all. So I had a good break between the two seasons and really had to think things through.”
Faced with criticism in the media and with his confidence taking a battering, Bottas said he took no pleasure in his racing at that time.
“The human mind is strange in a way that sometimes you go into dark places,” he revealed.
“You lose the joy in things and I just completely lost the joy of F1 and racing in F1. I was almost angry at F1.
“It’s weird, but I just needed some time off, and think of the big picture and then I realised that ‘OK, it’s actually a pretty cool sport and I still have great opportunities ahead of me’. So I would be silly not to take them.
“I decided to go on a break in South America somewhere and just try not to think about F1 at all, and just try to find the will and the joy for the sport and the motivation.
“I found it, it was like a click. Probably [in] mid-January, I decided ‘OK, let’s do this. I can still do it’. So I managed to get myself together and I found the joy of driving again.
“Immediately, the results were much better than in ’18. 2019 was probably my best season so far, especially against Lewis.
“I won quite a few races, and especially until halfway through the season, I was sometimes even leading the championship, so it was a pretty, pretty strong year, but then just Lewis’ consistency and performances overall, for the whole season, I couldn’t match.”
Now racing with Alfa Romeo, and affirming that he has re-discovered his love of racing in the years since his low point, Bottas said that Hamilton’s dominant personality and performances meant he was never able to reach the targets he had set for himself while racing for the Brackley-based team.
“Lewis had been part of [Mercedes] for a long time,” Bottas mused.
“As a driver and, as a person in the team, he’s the dominant person. So it’s quite difficult to step up, and I never could really step up in a way that I wanted alongside Lewis because the team was so welded in, and… he’s Lewis. So it’s like, everyone looks up to him almost. So that’s how it goes.”
Having been promoted from the midfield Williams team at short notice at the end of 2016, Bottas said he never felt that the progression to Mercedes had come too early in his career.
“It was a challenge, but I was definitely ready for it,” he said.
“The only thing I was thinking when I joined the team was that ‘now, this year on, I want to win the championship’, like that was my attitude.
“I think I was quite hard on myself because it didn’t happen. I was like ‘oh, OK, I’ll try next year, even harder’. Didn’t happen. So it was really not easy to accept the situation that it’s not that easy to beat Lewis when he’s at his peak performance.
“Now, when I look back at it, [it was a] great school for me, in a way that I learned a lot about myself sometimes to give me a bit more leash and, in a way, not to be too hard on myself on some things. I’m really, really glad it happened.”