ATHER OF THE SON
With his 2016 title win, Nico Rosberg becomes the second world champion son of a world champion father, after Graham and Damon Hill. looks back at 1982, the year Nico’s old man, Keke, took his title…
Keijo ‘Keke’ Rosberg had been building a reputation as a fast, aggressive, F1 racer – albeit one cast in the mould of an over-achiever in sub-par machinery – when a gilded opportunity came his way. Late in 1981, after four seasons with back-of-the-grid fodder from the likes of Fittipaldi, Wolf, ATS and Theodore, Rosberg was approaching his 33rd birthday and seemingly past whatever peak he might have enjoyed. But then a vacancy arose at Williams when 1980 champion Alan Jones unexpectedly retired.
Frank Williams had to pick the best driver he could get for 1982 from very limited options, bearing in mind that the rst race was in South Africa on 23 January. Rosberg rewarded his leap of faith by claiming the title after one of the hardest-fought – and most tragic – seasons in the sport’s history.
This was a period of political and technological change as the FIA tried to contain car performance while the teams fought for a greater share of the sport’s revenue. For several seasons the FIA had sought to combat ‘ground effect’ – the practice of channelling air under the car to boost downforce. None of their tactics worked, and the growing power and the popularity of turbocharging exacerbated the problem. The cars were quicker and more physically demanding to drive than ever.
Rosberg’s main challenge throughout 1982 was that F1 had passed the crossover point: the turbocharged engines used by Renault and Ferrari had far more grunt than the venerable naturally aspirated Cosworth DFV in his Williams. He had to drive out of his skin simply to keep up, a fact often lost on those who churlishly point out that he won just one race all season.
The season began rancorously with a drivers’ strike over the FIA’s new superlicence regime during the South African Grand Prix weekend. A race planned for Argentina in early March was cancelled. In Brazil, Rosberg nished second to Nelson Piquet’s Williams, but further trouble was brewing over the technical chicanery the Cosworth-powered teams were employing to get around the power decit.
Beyond the political sphere, chaos and tragedy stalked F1. There were ve different leaders in the last two laps of the Monaco Grand Prix. Gilles Villeneuve was killed in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, while rookie Riccardo Paletti died after a crash at the start in Montréal. And Didier Pironi suffered lifechanging injuries to his legs after running into the back of Alain Prost during qualifying at Hockenheim.
Germany was round 12 of 16 and Pironi was leading the championship with 39 points from John Watson (30), Alain Prost (25) and Niki Lauda (24). Rosberg was fth, with 23. The points system of 9-6-4-3-2-1 had rewarded Rosberg’s consistency, and with Pironi out of the frame there was everything to play for. Podium nishes in Germany and Austria (where he almost won) vaulted Rosberg into second place, and then victory in the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon enabled him to overtake Pironi’s tally. Fifth place at the season-closer in Las Vegas sealed the deal.
Despite winning just one GP in 1982, Keke Rosberg’s determination and consistency paid off, as he dragged the underpowered Williams FW08 to the title