Whatever happens at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix over the next few days, Valtteri Bottas will be out in the countryside riding his bike once the dust has settled on the Sakhir circuit.
Surrounded by nature, the Finn almost always prefers two wheels to four to disconnect from the high-pressure environment of Formula One.
“My sport is hectic. It’s busy, you are surrounded by lots of people and lots of noise. It is stressful,” Bottas tells Telegraph Sport from his home in Monaco. “On the bike, though, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s quiet, there is beautiful scenery and you have all the time in the world. It’s a really nice contrast from Formula One.”
The 33-year-old says it is this contrast between almost polar-opposite worlds that gives him the time and space to improve himself when back in the driving seat, from both a mental and physical perspective.
“I need to escape to nature. Escaping to the countryside is important for me and my head. If I have made a mistake in a race – which is always super disappointing – when I get home the next day, the first thing I do is get on the bike and process what happened. The physical aspect helps me, of course, but cycling is good for the head, too.
“Cycling helps me maintain my fitness throughout the whole season – it has always been a part of my cardio and endurance training.”
The marriage between F1 and cycling may appear an odd union for some, but Bottas recognises similarities.
From carbon technology through to aerodynamics, both can be extremely technical, where minute brushstrokes paint a broader picture.
Bottas is not the first F1 driver to have a passion for cycling. Mark Webber and Jenson Button were very keen cyclists throughout their driving careers, while Nigel Mansell, the 1992 world champion, even went as far as backing a professional team.
Bottas has not launched his own squad just yet, but he has, along with his partner, Tiffany Cromwell, who is a professional cyclist with Women’s WorldTeam Canyon-Sram, set up a race in his homeland with a prize pot of €20,000 (£17,740). Raced on gravel roads near Lahti, FNLD GRVL, which will take place on June 10, is open to amateurs from all over the world.
Bottas says that he is hoping to complete the seven-kilometre version of the off-road event. “I will be between races – Barcelona and Montreal – so cannot do too much, but this will be enough to challenge myself.”
Fortunately for Bottas, his Alfa Romeo team have placed no restrictions on his passion for cycling. “Gravel races are not quite as hectic as road races,” Bottas says. “I don’t consider gravel races to be too big of a risk anyway, so my team are happy for me to ride. My contract does not say I can’t ride my bike.”
Just last month Lance Stroll sustained a wrist injury in a cycling accident, while the Aston Martin driver’s team-mate, Fernando Alonso, ended up in hospital in 2021 after a car knocked him down while he was out riding in Lugano, Switzerland.
“Sometimes you need to accept some risks, but there can be factors that you can’t do anything about – like cars coming from behind which you have no control over. This is why I prefer gravel riding – roads with less traffic is definitely my preferred form. I try to be sensible and use common sense.”
It may sound odd when a racing driver discusses the dangers that cars can present to cyclists. Bottas, however, is not a man afraid to speak out against either the new stance by motorsport’s world governing body, the FIA, on drivers airing their political views, or the damaging environmental impact of his sport.
“I try to do my part, I try to do the best I can. When I fly to races, I always offset the emissions. If there’s not a possibility to do it with the airline, then I do it another way,” Bottas says. “It is absolutely something I think about.
“Formula One is doing lots. I’m sure there’s still lots more that could be done. If you are going to the supermarket or shops, go on a bike if you don’t have too many things to carry. It’s simple, simple choices in life, but I definitely think about it and I think there’s always more I could do.”