Valtteri Bottas says his current campaign with the Alfa Romeo team, his first with the Swiss outfit, is his "most enjoyable" season so far in F1.
The Finn had to come to terms with a whole new perspective on life on the Formula 1 grid when he was dropped by Mercedes after a successful five season collaboration.
With no seats available at any of the other top teams, he accepted a spot with Alfa Romeo where at least he would be the undisputed team leader alongside Chinese rookie Zhou Guanyu after years as the loyal Silver Arrows 'wingman'.
Alfa had fared poorly in 2021 and Bottas might have been expecting to start his first race with them from near the back. Instead he ended up lining up alongside his old partner Lewis Hamilton on the third row of the grid in Bahrain.
Although Alfa's pace had been somewhat variable and compromised by reliability issues since then, it hasn't knocked that early shine off Bottas who has been reinvigorated by his new surroundings.
He's currently in ninth place in the drivers standings, just ahead of Fernando Alonso. He's picked up 41 of the 46 points earned by the team over the course of the first 13 of 22 races in 2022.
“In the past at Mercedes, normally it used to be only one team we battled against, so then it was just focused on those two cars,” he told Motorsport.com last week.
"Now I can have six cars around that we need to be aware of, so that’s nice," referring to recent close battles with the likes of Alpine, McLaren, Haas, AlphaTauri and Aston Martin.
As a result, "this season is probably the most enjoyable so far," he suggested. "Okay, maybe you don’t always remember things [accurately] but it really feels like I’m enjoying F1 more than ever.
“When it gets to the racing it’s a lot of good fun, especially in the midfield and how different it is strategy-wise in the races.
"It’s more like one decision can jump you many places. It’s a different game," he explained.
As well as not having the expectation of competing for a race- and championship-winning team, Bottas said that having stability was also a big factor in his new-found sense of enjoyment this year.
Amazingly, despite having been in the sport for ten seasons since his debut with Williams in 2013, the 32-year-old has never been on a contract longer than one year in duration until he was signed up by Alfa Romeo with a multi-year deal.
“This is actually the first time for me because even with Williams, it was always one year,” he confirmed. “It’s the first time I haven’t had to stress and answer the questions [about his future].
"For the drivers who don’t know, for sure it won’t be nice," he added.
He said that the security meant that he was able to relax more and "just fully focus on the job", giving him the freedom to better enjoy racing in F1.
Bottas said that compared with the professional, corporate set-up at Brackley, Alfa felt "quite young" and "like a new race team".
"Of course when I work I work hard," he added. "But then when I'm off, I can do whatever I want.
"Life with the team and in F1 and outside of it is a really nice balance."
And part of that balance saw him post a cheeky picture on social media of him skinny-dipping in a stream in the United States, which has since been dubbed the 'Bott-ass'. A print was auctioned for charity for €50,000.
Such things would probably not have gone down so well at his old team. "I doubt I would have done it [if I'd still been at Mercedes]", he said.
But he says these days he doesn't care so much about what people might say about him or the criticism made by fans. "I just care much less than I used to. And it was a nice photo!"