Like father unlike son: it is Nico’s time to shine
Rosberg junior is not a copy of his dad on the track
Keke Rosberg was a teenager when he swaggered into a Swedish go-kart shop as an apprentice in the early 1960s.
By the time he left motorsports, his reputation for bravery, speed and muscular driving had taken root.
“People were in awe of him even then, how brave he was, what a crazy fast driver this guy from Finland was,” said Stefan Johansson, who became friends with Rosberg at that shop and would grow up to race against him in Formula One in the 1980s.
Rosberg would end his career regarded as a one of F1’s great swashbucklers, a hard-charging, speed-seeking thrill master who won the 1982 championship.
Now his son Nico is on the verge of matching his father’s title, but with none of his flair. Even as he piles up wins, the younger Rosberg has been called boring, bland and even bad for F1’s efforts to attract new fans.
Nico Rosberg doesn’t care, so long as his critics call him champion after this season.
“I’m here to win races and not to please everybody that’s out there,” he said ahead of the Mexican GP, won by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton who cut the German’s lead to 19 points with two races left. With his bushy moustache and bruising driving, Keke Rosberg was a crowd pleaser in an era when the Formula One was far more dangerous. Over the course of his F1 career from 1978 to 1986, five drivers were killed, including two in 1982 when Rosberg won his championship. His qualifying laps at the 1985 British Grand Prix at Silverstone remain stuff of legend. He was already secure in the pole position and returned to the track after a spell of rain to go even faster, averaging more than 160 mph, a previously unattainable speed. Johansson, who raced against him for five years, said Keke Rosberg “epitomised what auto racing was all about at a time it was more bravery than technique. In the rain, he was spectacularly fast”.
Comparing father and son as drivers is difficult. Nico Rosberg drives in an era when safety has been dramatically improved and tracks have been tamed with chicanes designed to slow cars into turns deemed too dangerous.
When F1 returned to Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in 2015 after 23 years, designers had eliminated the notorious Peraltada corner, long regarded as one of the most fearsome in the sport.
“A lot of those elements aren't essential anymore. Nico is clearly one of the top drivers in the world. I think maybe he doesn’t project the same bravado and the same sort of gutsy approach as his father,” added Johansson.
And unlike his father, Nico Rosberg leads a quieter family life. He even grows and eats his own vegetables.
“[Keke] enjoyed a very good drink, and also a good cigarette,” said former world champion Jackie Stewart.
“Nico is much more disciplined with his regime of fitness and so forth. “He’s a modern man.” To some, that equals boring. Rosberg has lived in Hamilton’s considerable social media shadow the last two years, but his drive toward a championship has been clinical.
Perhaps most important has been his mental approach in not letting the rivalry with his teammate frustrate him on the track.
Rosberg is one victory shy of becoming just the fourth driver to win 10 races in a single season.
That wouldn't be exciting, but it would be good enough to match his father and in some ways surpass him. Keke Rosberg won only one grand prix in his championship season.
‘People were in awe of him even then, how brave he was.’ – STEFAN JOHANSSON ON KEKE ROSBERG