Nico Rosberg is, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern motor racing man. He’s cool in both senses of the word, he’s cosmopolitan, he’s switched on, he looks the part and, most importantly, he’s a winner.
They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps, and all his life Nico Erik Rosberg has lived in the company of a World Champion – his father Keke, the Finn who won the title with Williams back in 1982.
Not in Keke’s shadow, mind you: Nico has always been his own man, although it was a considerable help when five-time Grand Prix winner Rosberg Senior launched Team Rosberg, the perfect vehicle, so to speak, for his son’s own racing ambitions at an early stage in his career.
Nico went there to do the F3 Euroseries after karting and after winning the German Formula BMW title in 2002. By 2005 he was ready to move up; by the end of that year he was the first champion of a new racing category called GP2.
Rosberg and his ART outfit fought a season-long duel with Arden’s Heikki Kovalainen in the new category, claiming three feature race wins and two sprints. Rosberg’s one-lap speed – the points he got for fastest laps and pole positions – carried him clear (why don’t they give those points in Formula 1?) and a double race win in the final round in Bahrain on September 29-30 was the proverbial icing on the cake.
True to its promise, GP2 proved to be the springboard to F1. Once again it helped to have been in the right company: it was his Dad’s old team Williams who snapped Rosberg up to race alongside Mark Webber in 2006. Less than six months after that Bahrain triumph, Nico was back there for his F1 debut – and set fastest race lap in Bahrain on March 12, 2006, on his way to seventh place behind the Australian.
As we know, Williams was already a team in sharp decline. Webber left in 2007; Rosberg persevered through three more years at Grove, taking his first podium in Australian in 2008 and another at the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix that same year. There were no more, and late in 2009 the call came that Rosberg – a German despite his father’s Finnish origins – could not resist.
The Silver Arrows were back: Mercedes-Benz were setting up their own F1 team, with none other than seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher to lead it with Rosberg at his side in an all-German driver line-up.
Some feared for Rosberg, who was then just 24. Wouldn’t Schumacher, hungry for renewed success, simply blow him away? Answer: no. By season’s end Rosberg had amassed 142 points – almost twice as many as Michael. It was much closer in 2011, 89-76 in Rosberg’s favour, but bigger, better things were just around the corner.
On April 14, 2012 in Shanghai Nico Rosberg secured his first pole position in F1; on April 15 he used it to perfection, winning the Chinese Grand Prix by a margin of 20 seconds from Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes-powered McLarens.
It was Rosberg’s 111th Grand Prix. It was 111 years since a Mercedes first won a competitive event, in Nice in 1901. It was also an enormous relief.
“This is a very special moment for me,” said the driver. “The whole weekend went perfectly. My first pole position, now my first win in Formula One – it really is fantastic. But it's not only this; it's the first win for the new Silver Arrow and for this great team. I will never forget this race, and the last 20 laps felt as long as if I was racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours! But then crossing the line was so intense.”
What were we saying about the company you keep? That Shanghai victory put Nico Rosberg in an elite group of only four drivers to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a Silver Arrow. The other three go by the names of Fangio, Moss and Hamilton, which is special company in anyone’s book. Rosberg is, though, in a company of one: the first and so far only German driver to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a German car.
Naturally Nico’s name is right beside his father’s in the F1 record-books, and on May 26, 2013 he joined Keke in a unique way – by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, which his father did for Williams on May 15, 1983.
“Monaco is such a special place to win and it just feels amazing today. It was my childhood dream to win this race and to do it in a Silver Arrow on the streets where I have lived all of my life is fantastic. I can’t quite believe it has happened yet and it will probably take a while to sink in. Thank you to the team for the car that we had this weekend and it’s good to have been able to show the same level of performance on Sunday and convert our pole position.”
Note the missing name: no reference there to his famous father as Rosberg Junior enjoyed his own moment in the sun…
The company he is keeping right now goes by the name of Lewis Hamilton, an old buddy from their karting days together and now his teammate at Mercedes-Benz. Early in their F1 partnership it was Nico who was taking care of business, adding a Silverstone victory to that memorable Monaco moment and claiming three straight poles.
But as they headed for Monza Nico found himself 44 points adrift of Lewis, who claimed his own maiden Mercedes victory in Hungary and started from pole in four consecutive races.
“It’s just a bit of a phase where not everything is going 100% right,” said an outwardly unruffled Rosberg. He promptly headed off for Croatia in the summer break, enjoying downtime with his partner Vivian Sibold. It’s all about the company you keep…