Bottas was set to retire after 2018 due to Hamilton defeats

Valtteri Bottas has revealed he was planning on retiring from Formula 1 after the 2018 season, as he struggled mentally with being beaten by Lewis Hamilton.

The Finn joined Mercedes ahead of the 2017 season and won three races in his first year, but he failed to win in the following campaign, ending the season fifth in the drivers’ championship and without a podium in the final four rounds. Speaking to the Motor Sport Magazine “My Big Break” podcast, Bottas says he had made his mind up to retire after falling out of love with F1, and only reversed the decision — one he had yet to communicate to Mercedes — two months before the 2019 season got underway.

“At the end of 2018 I almost stopped,” Bottas said. “It was so close. Just because of the fact I couldn’t understand and take in 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 was more painful than… you should enjoy F1, it’s pretty cool, but it wasn’t that at all.

“I had a good break then between the two seasons and really had to think things through. I decided to go on a break in South America somewhere and just tried not to think about F1 at all and try to find the will and the joy for the sport, and the motivation.

“I found it — it was like a click at one point. But it was after New Year’s, probably mid-January or something, I decided, ‘OK, let’s do this, I can still do it.’ So I managed to get myself together and then I found the joy of the driving again.

“Immediately the results were much better than in ’18. Actually I think that following year in ’19 was probably my best season so far, especially against Lewis — I won quite a few races and until halfway through the season I was sometimes even leading the championship, so it was a pretty strong year. But then, just Lewis’ consistency and performances overall for the whole season, I couldn’t match.”

Bottas confirms it wasn’t just a decision about racing for Mercedes, but retiring from Formula 1 completely at that time.

“Yes, absolutely. The human mind is strange in a way — sometimes you go into dark places and you lose the joy on things. I just completely lost the joy of F1 and racing in F1. I was almost angry at F1; it’s weird. I just needed some time off. Think things in a big picture and then I realized actually it’s a pretty cool sport and I still have great opportunities ahead of me so I would be silly not to take them.

“I was walking in a Finnish forest, in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I like to disappear, go for a hike for one or two hours in the snow. I was just standing still, looking around, and could feel this adrenaline. I was like ‘Yeah, let’s do this,’ and then I won the first race!”

That first race in Australia saw Bottas deliver a pointed radio message of “To whom it may concern: F**k you” after the race, but he says it was a general response to his critics.

“No, not someone in particular. I got a lot of criticism throughout the last part of ’18; should I be a Mercedes driver? Is he the right guy for the team? That started to annoy me. So it was basically for people who were starting to push me down. I started to use that as motivation for that race.”

Bottas believes the comment was also aimed partly at himself for considering quitting, adding: “Those kind of moments, I just want to tell people to always look at the big picture in life. If you feel a bit anxious about things, take a step back, there’s always so much more to get if you don’t give up.”