- Bottas and Raikkonen fly flag for Finland
- Finland boasts three F1 world champions
But when the cars line up on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix there will an added sense of expectation in Finland with homegrown heroes Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas expected to be in title contention this year.
Excitement back at home is growing, says Finnish motorsport journalist Jarno Saari.
“Just in recent days our media have been saying that it will be the best season ever for Finns,” Saari told CNN.
“We had Kimi and Heikki Kovalainen in top teams a few years ago but now there could be two drivers who can challenge for race wins.
“Everyone who is interested will stop all activities and watch the TV on Sunday.”
Bottas is bidding to become the fourth Finnish driver to win an F1 world title, following in the footsteps of Raikkonen in 2007, Mika Hakkinen — champion in 1998 and 1999 — and Keke Rosberg, father of reigning world champion Nico and triumphant back in 1982.
‘Racing is in our blood’
Finland’s track record in motorsport is remarkable given its size — a country of 5.5 million people boasts the same number of F1 champions as Germany and Brazil.
In rallying, its achievements are even more impressive with more champions — including Marcus Grönholm, Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen — than any other nation.
So what’s the secret?
“Racing is in our blood, in a way,” Henri Niskanen, a karting coach at Finland’s AKK-Motorsport Organization, told CNN.
“We have a vast variety of different conditions during the year; dry, snow, ice, wet, mud, gravel — you name it!
“Kids start driving and playing around in these conditions from a young age with different vehicles which gives a great platform to build your driving skills further on.”
Niskanen, who helped steer Bottas through the junior ranks, is not surprised by his success.
“Valtteri has always been fast in dry conditions but he has been outstanding in wet race conditions since the early days,” he says.
“He was keen on learning and listening to advice from more experienced drivers and coaches. You could always see the passion and concentration in his eyes when talking with him about driving.”
Mission impossible? Finns just go for it
Bottas’ quiet, single-minded approach is something all Finns can relate to, says former world rally champion Ari Vatanen.
“Maybe it’s about the ‘sisu’ — the will to go through rock. The word is hard to translate but it means if all the odds are against you, or it’s mission impossible, you go for it.”
A flinty resolve is an incredibly potent weapon on track but not always helpful off it, Vatanen concedes.
“It also means we are not very diplomatic. We are not very social, we do not cooperate, we are very much individuals — that’s a downside!” Vatanen says.