SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Valtteri Bottas stepped into the shoes of a champion when he joined Mercedes and in Russia on Sunday the Finn finally got that winning feeling.
Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton has experienced it 54 times in his career and Nico Rosberg, the 2016 title-winner replaced by Bottas in January, won 23 grands prix before retiring.
Mercedes have won 53 of the last 63 Formula One races, since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era, but the team could still revel in the new arrival experiencing what will surely be the first of many victories.
Hamilton congratulated the Finn after the finish, and Rosberg sent a congratulatory message on Twitter, before Bottas took a hefty swig of the podium champagne and breathed a sigh of satisfaction and relief.
After 81 races, and four seasons with Williams before getting the call from Mercedes, Bottas had added victory to the pole position and fastest lap he already had on his resume.
“Getting the first win is something special, even though you always believe in yourself, because there’s no point being here or doing this if you don’t believe in your skill,” he told reporters.
”If you think that you are not able to win, then definitely you should stay at home.
”But to actually get that confirmation, get that result -- because results are what matters in this world, how much you can collect points, how many races you can win, how many times you can be on the podium -- that’s the name of the game.
“And getting that first win definitely gives me a lot of confidence that I can do it, even though I always knew I had the ability. And now it’s done, I just want to do it again and again.”
The start was the key, with Bottas lining up third and behind the two Ferraris before the lights went out and he was able to get the jump on both red cars and lead into the first corner.
He then held off Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari’s championship leader, in the closing laps to cross the line with a 0.6-second advantage.
As he took the chequered flag, he swore and whooped in a rare emotional outburst for a man who had earlier told his race engineer to be quiet so that he could concentrate fully on the job in hand.
“It wasn’t the easiest race to win but it feels better when you actually need to earn it. And for my first one, it’s very special,” said Bottas.
Editing by Clare Fallon