Byline: Kevin Eason
SIR FRANK WILLIAMS will put Nico Rosberg on the Formula One grid next season in the hope that some of the success of the youngster's father will rub off on his failing team. Rosberg, at 20, will be the youngest driver in the sport but arrives in Formula One with the support of Keke, his father, who won the 1982 world championship with the Williams team.
Williams is an unlikely candidate to take over from Bruce Forsyth, but Formula One's knight seems to have launched his own version of The Generation Game by gambling on Rosberg to drive for him next year. Williams seems to be specialising in father-son contributions to the highest form of motor racing: Keke raced for him two decades ago and he also hired Damon Hill, the only man to emulate his father, Graham, as Formula One world champion. The young Rosberg is an unknown quantity, in spite of outstanding performances in lower formulas and a heritage that puts him in line to form a dynasty behind his father.
But Williams has an experienced eye for spotting young talent, such as gambling on a 19-year-old Jenson Button, who has gone on to become one of the sport's highest-paid drivers. Williams has no doubts that Rosberg is capable of following in his father's tyre tracks.
"I am only one of many in Formula One who is genuinely excited about the prospect of Nico Rosberg," Williams said. "I am delighted he is making a contribution to Formula One history and has signed with us for next season. His natural talent in the cockpit is equally matched by his intelligence out of it, demonstrated by his depth of technical understanding and communication of data over the months spent as a test driver this season.
"Despite his youth, his wealth of experience reflects the early start made by contemporary drivers and it is significant to note that Nico has recorded more race starts by the age of 20 than his father recorded in an entire career."
Rosberg is regarded by many as a natural, although Formula One represents a steep learning curve in a harsh environment that has seen off many other talented drivers -particularly at Williams, a team not known for nurturing talent. Button was dumped for Juan Pablo Montoya, who left disgruntled for McLaren, and even Hill departed under a cloud the season after winning the 1996 world championship.
Rosberg will be the first son of a champion to race in Formula One since Damon Hill retired in 1999 and, like Hill, faces the struggle of having to compete with his father's reputation. The two could not be more different, though: Keke, Finnish and built like a prop forward, was known as a dogged and tough racer, while Nico, German-born and fluent in four languages, shelved a university engineering course to concentrate full-time on racing. He has film star looks that will delight sponsors and has been winning praise for his smooth and refined approach to racing.
Keke won the world championship with Williams, in spite of registering only a single victory that season and five throughout his Formula One career, but Rosberg the younger believes that he can go farther to challenge the young crop of racers now in Formula One, headed by Fernando Alonso, the champion.
"I hope I can top my father's count of wins," Rosberg said. "I'm going to work very hard to be as good as he was, although I don't want to compare myself to him.
It's always been the same for me throughout my career. It's always been, 'so, how's your Dad?' and, 'how is it to be the son of?' and things like that. By now I've got used to it and I'm also proud to have such a father. When I was told I had the job, I walked out to my Dad, he gave me a big hug."
Williams will hope that success will come like father, like son.
DAMON HILL, the Englishman, is the only driver to emulate his father as Formula One world champion, taking the title in 1996. Graham Hill won the title twice, in 1962 and 1968, but won fewer races -14 to Damon's 22.
Jacques Villeneuve was world champion in 1997 but Gilles, his father, never won a title in spite of being one of the most loved Ferrari drivers before his death at Zolder, in Belgium, in 1982.
Alberto Ascari, champion in 1952 and 1953 with Ferrari, was the son of Antonio, the pre-war grand-prix ace who also never won the title.
David Brabham, the Australian, started 24 times between 1990 and 1994 for Brabham and Simtek without scoring a point, while Sir Jack, his father, won three titles, having the unique distinction of winning in his own Brabham car.
Michael Andretti failed to emulate his father, Mario, who won the title in 1978.
The American had a nightmare time with McLaren in 1993, making only 13 starts.
Waiting in the wings are: Nelson Piquet Jr, son of the three-times champion from Brazil; Matthias Lauda, son of the three-times champion, Niki, and Christian Jones, son of Australia's only champion, Alan.
Copyright (C) The Times, 2005
Lapping it up: Nico Rosberg is excited to get the chance to emulate Keke, below left, who won the world championship in 1982. Photograph by BRYN LENNON / GETTY IMAGES