Formula 1: Las Vegas hype actually shared by the drivers?

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Formula 1 (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Formula 1 (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images) /

The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix has been the most hyped race of the 2023 Formula 1 season in the United States. How much of that hype is also in the paddock itself?

We have reached race week for one of the most anticipated Formula 1 races in years: the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

While there has certainly been no shortage of controversy surrounding the event, specifically relating to the feelings of locals whose daily lives have been drastically affected by the track setup, the hype for this event among fans is off the charts — as are its ticket prices.

But do the Formula 1 drivers feel the same way?

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas certainly thinks so.

Speaking to Beyond the Flag through his and his team’s partnership with Hyland, he addressed the fact that he believes the hype within the paddock itself is just as strong as it is among the sport’s rapidly growing fanbase.

“It is huge — for everybody,” Bottas said. “I think everybody is really curious to see how it is going to be, and I’m sure it’s going to be a big show, so yeah, I think everyone is kind of looking forward to it and everything. Everyone thinks it’s going to be pretty epic. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve been to Vegas once, that was quite a few years ago, so now it’s going to be definitely a bit of a different kind of experience.”

Bottas and Alfa Romeo have largely fallen short of their expectations they set ahead of the 2023 season, sitting in ninth place in the constructor standings with a very real possibility of finishing in 10th (last) for the first time since 2017 when they were still branded as Sauber.

“We’ve got just two [races] to go, and definitely the targets we set as a team before the season, we haven’t met them, honestly,” Bottas admitted. “We were hoping for better.”

In the 34-year-old Finn’s first season with the team last year, they placed sixth, their highest result since 2012 and tied for their highest since 2008.

Despite their struggles, Alfa Romeo still have a viable path to finish as high as seventh place in the 2023 Formula 1 season.

“But yeah, there are still two to go,” he continued. “Obviously the focus is also already on next year when it comes to development, but [we] just want to try to maximize the last two, get some points and finish as high as we can, basically, without compromising any of next year’s development. So we need to balance some of those things.”

While Alfa Romeo’s development focus shifted to 2024 many months ago, Bottas himself is still focused on 2023.

“Obviously I need to focus on my job, which is trying to drive the car as fast as possible,” he said. “But behind the scenes, I know that lots of good resources already from quite some time ago have been shifted to next year, and we’re making completely new car. That obviously requires people and time, so yeah, I really hope that the new car is going to be fast.”

Bottas isn’t sure which of the four teams in the battle for seventh place — Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo, and Haas — will have the advantage in the season’s final two races. The first of those two races is at a brand new track, while the second is at a track that all of the team’s know quite well in Abu Dhabi.

“Vegas is quite hard to predict because it’s a completely new track,” he stated. “It’s unknown for everybody. Obviously I’ve done simulator sessions for it and I know it a bit, but it is really hard to predict, so I think whoever gets it right then will have a chance, and hopefully that’s us.

“And then we’ve got Abu Dhabi, which all the teams and drivers know really well. I don’t think there is going to be any big surprise there. So yeah, I’m really hoping for a good weekend in Vegas and hopefully getting some points, and that way a better finishing position.”

After finishing in 10th place in the standings last year to lead the team, Bottas finds himself in 15th this season amid the team’s slight decline. However, the peace of mind he has while competing on a multi-year deal, something he never did during his five seasons at Mercedes, has helped him to relax and get the most out of the C43 on a regular basis.

“It makes a difference, for sure,” he said. “Like if you’re always on the on the edge not knowing what’s happening in in a few months’ time, it’s quite hard to focus 100% on the long-term development with a team, and yeah, when I jumped in, I took it as a project, and I knew that probably the first couple of years could be tricky and tough — and this year has been tough.

“But I take it and I’m still motivated because I know that in the future what’s happening to the team and what opportunities there are now for the future. That’s my motivation and keeps me going.”

Though Bottas beat teammate Zhou Guanyu in their first season as teammates last year and finds himself ahead of the young Chinese driver again in 2023, Alfa Romeo are sticking with the same two drivers again in 2024, something Bottas also believes is beneficial to all parties.

“I feel like it’s always good to have stability,” he said. “We do work well together and I think the team sees that, so yeah, we can really work as a team on track, and off track we have good respect. He’s been a super nice guy to work with, and yeah, more than happy to continue with him for next year.”

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The 2023 Formula 1 season is scheduled to conclude with the Las Vegas Grand Prix at Las Vegas Street Circuit this Sunday, November 19 at 1:00 a.m. ET and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, November 26 at 8:00 a.m. ET.