Formula 1Race of Champions

Valtteri Bottas making Race of Champions debut in 2023

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Credit: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK

Between Formula One seasons, Valtteri Bottas frequently dabbles in rallying in his native Finland, navigating through snow and icy surfaces. On 29/29 January 2023, he will bring what he picked up from the discipline to neighbouring Sweden when he competes at the Race of Champions for the first time. He will represent Finland alongside Mika Häkkinen.

Bottas was initially supposed to run the 2022 ROC alongside Häkkinen but ultimately could not make the trip, and Emma Kimiläinen took his place on Team Finland. In the Nations Cup, the Häkkinen/Kimiläinen defeated Great Britain before falling to the United States in the Semi-Final. Both were eliminated in the first round of the individual bracket.

“I’ve watched the event on TV for many years and I came so close to competing last year until I had to pull out at the last minute,” said Bottas. “It was tough watching everyone having so much fun throwing their cars around on the snow and ice in Sweden, so I’m glad I will now be joining them at Pite Havsbad in January.

“I have become good friends with Mika over the years, but it will be a special treat to be able to race alongside him. We’ve both taken part in the Arctic Rally a few times so hopefully that can help us beat our Nordic neighbours and everyone else. Then we’ll have to put our friendship aside again and try to beat each other in the individual Race of Champions. Whatever happens, I’m sure we will put on a great show for all the fans watching at the track and around the world.”

Bottas made his rally début at the 2019 Arctic Lapland Rally, where he finished fifth overall and won a class. Later that year, he won the Rallycircuit Côte d’Azur at Circuit Paul Ricard. Whenever F1 is in its offseason, Bottas continued returning to the Arctic Rally with two-time World Rally Champion Timo Rautiainen as co-driver. He finished ninth in the 2020 edition followed by sixth in 2021.

With his new rally experience and F1 success as a ten-time grand prix winner, it is perhaps unsurprising that Bottas enters ROC. Atlhough the event was traditionally held on pavement, it transitioned to a snow/ice course for the first time upon moving to Pite Havsbad, Sweden, for 2022.

Häkkinen, a twice F1 World Champion, competed in the Lapland Rally in the 2000s shortly after beginning his “sabbatical” from F1.

With rallying being Finland’s most popular motorsport, it should come with little surprise that many Finns who reached F1 also have rally experience despite being different disciplines: Leo Kinnunen and 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen raced in WRC, 1982 F1 WDC Keke Rosberg and Mika Salo ran the Arctic Rally following their F1 exits, and Heikki Kovalainen won the All-Japan Rally Championship in September and is set for his WRC-2 début at Rally Japan later this month.

“It’s great that Valtteri will be joining us at the Race of Champions in January,” commented Häkkinen. “I was expecting to pair up with him for Team Finland last year, so all I can say is better late than never. I can assure him the Race of Champions really is as fun as it looks and to race on the snow and ice is brilliant. As we both grew up in about the only country that’s even colder than Pite Havsbad, we should have a chance. As for the secret to success? I might tell Valtteri before the ROC Nations Cup, but only if he promises to have forgotten it by the individual race the next day…”

Jamie Chadwick (Britain), Johan Kristoffersson (Sweden), and F1 peer Sebastian Vettel (Germany) have confirmed their entries for ROC 2023. but not their team-mates. Petter and Oliver Solberg will likely comprise Team Norway again to defend their Nations Cup victory.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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