MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Valtteri Bottas savored the “greatest” race of his career on Sunday as he claimed a dominant win for Mercedes in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and left a doubt-stricken 2018 firmly in his rear-view mirror.
The 29-year-old Finn could not buy a win last season and finished fifth in the drivers’ championship as team mate Lewis Hamilton collected 11 on the way to his fifth title.
With young Frenchman Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings as Mercedes’ reserve driver, Bottas went into the off-season hounded by doubts and with speculation over the security of his race seat.
He passed the break getting drunk with friends at home, growing a beard, taking a turn in a rally car and nurturing a new photography hobby.
The man that returned to Melbourne felt at peace enough to declare he was ready to beat anybody.
After qualifying second, he made good on his word at Albert Park on Sunday as he got the jump on pole-sitter Hamilton at the start and roared to a dominant, 20-second-plus victory.
Bottas hailed the “greatest race” of his career, icing the cake of his fourth F1 win by claiming a bonus point for registering the fastest lap.
While busy over the break, the Finn said he had found time to review everything about his preparations and brought a different mindset to Melbourne.
“Every year you learn as a person, you learn about yourself what works for you, what doesn’t in terms of preparation, which includes how you rest, how you spend your free time, how you do your training ... All sorts,” he said.
“So we were just trying to optimize everything again ... I don’t know, it’s quite difficult to explain what’s been going on in here over the last winter inside my head.
“Definitely something changed in terms of the way I feel about things ... That’s all in my thoughts but I felt good today in the car and yesterday and that’s all that matters.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was among the many to remind Bottas that only performance guarantees race seats in F1 during. But the Austrian was left doffing his cap on Sunday.
“Especially the second half of the season, he was completely written off,” said Wolff.
“People didn’t think that he was up for the job and he bounces back in the most dominant way, completely in control of the whole weekend.
“When he came back from the winter, he said ‘I’m back’. I think he rediscovered the joy of driving with his rally outing and mentally he remains strong.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty