JEREZ, Spain, Feb 6 (Reuters) - New Williams Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas can hardly wait for the waiting to be over.
The Finn, advised by retired double world champion and compatriot Mika Hakkinen, spent last season learning the ropes as the team’s reserve and now he is six weeks away from his race debut in Australia.
“It’s been a much better wait here,” smiled the 23-year-old in an interview at the Jerez test track on Wednesday as he looked forward to his first stint behind the wheel since November.
“I’ve waited two days now but it doesn’t matter because I know I will have the next two days and then I will have the car many, many other times this season,” he added as Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado put in the laps before handing over for Thursday and Friday.
”So it’s a different feeling, it’s really nice to finally get it all started.
“I think the last race I’ve done was an F3 Macau race at the end of 2011. It’s been a while, but it doesn’t feel like that. I feel like I am definitely ready to race.”
Last year, Bottas took part in Friday practice sessions at a majority of the grand prix weekends and then stayed on to watch and learn as much as possible while Maldonado and Brazilian Bruno Senna fought for points.
Senna has moved on, with Bottas identified early on as the rising star, and the Finn already has considerable expectation on his shoulders.
Maldonado is now a race winner, after his Spanish Grand Prix triumph last year, but some suspect Bottas could be the fastest of last year’s trio.
Former champions Williams, eighth overall of 12 teams last season, need consistent points finishes to move back up the pecking order and the rookie is part of that plan.
Bottas said he was ready to step up and deliver.
“It is like one goal achieved,” he said of his new status. “I have never had any problem with motivation but I have to say I am now even more motivated than ever.”
He has spent much of the European winter at the factory in Grove, when not training in Finland, talking to engineers and designers.
Unlike new recruits elsewhere, he has had input into the new car - which will not hit the track until the second test in Barcelona on Feb. 19 - because of his involvement and feedback last year.
“I think the main aim is to improve as a driver but also I have set the bar quite high since the beginning of the season,” he said. “Even in the first race I already want to put the car where it belongs and keep up with Pastor and keep learning and improving race by race.”
Melbourne is one of the tracks he has not driven on before, along with the other street circuits of Monaco, Montreal and Singapore, although he did travel to Australia last year.
Much has changed at the team since the announcement that he would replace Senna, with chief operations engineer Mark Gillan leaving and then the departure of Williams executive director Toto Wolff to Mercedes.
Wolff has been a key figure and mentor of Bottas’s career development and remains involved at a distance.
”It’s a shame those people are not any more at Williams but I think everything is now really well organised,“ said Bottas. ”We’ve got all the people basically we need to run the team well and I think for me it won’t really change much.
“Toto is still involved, basically it’s (manager) Didier (Coton), Mika and Toto who together are looking after me.”
Bottas said Hakkinen, the 1998 and 1999 world champion famous for his ‘Maximum Attack’ mantra in duels with Michael Schumacher, had been giving him the benefit of his advice.
“I have been every week in contact with Mika, we speak quite a lot,” he said. “With him I can speak about anything really, he’s got so much experience.”
The same cannot be said for compatriot Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who is now at Lotus and is not renowned for conversational skills.
“It’s nice to have a chat with other Finnish drivers and for sure we will see each other a lot in the paddock but in the end we are all competitors and driving against each other,” said Bottas of Raikkonen.
“He is a world champion and beating any world champion would be great,” he added. “Finns back home watching TV would be quite happy to see me and Kimi fighting together (on the track). It would be cool.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)