MONTREAL, June 8 (Reuters) - Valtteri Bottas enhanced his reputation as one of the rising stars of Formula One when he upstaged some of the biggest names in the sport on Saturday to qualify third fastest for the Canadian Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old from Finland showed maturity beyond his years when he guided his Williams to the second row of the grid in difficult, wet conditions.
“I don’t think we expected to be on the first or second row,” Bottas told a news conference.
“I think everyone in our team was hoping for rain because there’s always a chance if you get the timing right, get everything right, you can maybe finish a bit higher than where the car is sometimes.”
With all the cars sliding around the slippery track, Bottas found a dry line and qualified less than half a second behind Germany’s triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, who took pole position for Red Bull.
Behind him were all but two of his more seasoned rivals, including former world champions Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.
”Of course it means a lot,“ he said. ”It’s way more up in the grid than we could really ever imagine.
“It’s been so difficult in the first six races for us and this will be a nice boost for the team. We really got everything quite right today.”
Tipped for a bright future, Bottas has had a rough introduction to the white-knuckle sport because of problems with his Williams car.
Once an unstoppable force in Formula One, winning nine constructors’ championships and seven drivers’ titles, the British-based team has fallen on hard times. They have failed to score a single point all season.
In his six previous races, Bottas had qualified no better than 14th. He at least managed to finished each race but his best finish so far was 11th, in Malaysia.
“I think you can never be totally happy with the situation we are in. I still have zero points and there’s still a lot to learn,” he said.
“When I look back there’s so many things you always could have done better. It’s been OK but it could be always better.”
Bottas follows a long line of Finnish drivers to race in Formula One although he has taken a less familiar route.
He won the GP3 title in 2011 and arrived in Formula One without racing in the regular GP2 feeder series and with less financial backing than some others who might have aspired to the seat.
He spent last year as Williams reserve driver, learning the tracks in Friday practice and with double world champion Mika Hakkinen as manager and mentor to give him advice.
The 23-year-old made his Grand Prix debut in Australia and successfully finished all six races he entered before his head-turning performance on Saturday.
“We feel that we have made another step forward in performance, but ultimately today we were able to capitalise on the conditions,” said Mike Coughlan, the technical director for Williams.
“It’s a well-deserved result for Valtteri and for the whole team and it gives us all a real boost after all the hard work everyone has been putting in.” (Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Alan Baldwin)