Byline: Richard Rae
Family connections may have helped get him into F1, but Nico Rosberg is all on his own when he gets out on the track
Nico Rosberg learnt a lot about scale on Friday. Eight solid hours of smiling, talking and answering questions from 10am, when the first pictures were taken of him with the new FW28, until now, when he is looking out of the window and watching the lights of cars leaving the Williams Formula One headquarters disappear into the darkness.
Not many cars, though, as he points out. "That's the thing that has surprised me most. There's 600 people working here and every one is emotionally involved to an unbelievable degree. It's late, but hardly anybody is leaving yet. Everybody does everything they absolutely can to help win."
And then he says a curious thing. "I feel at home here. I like the fact that this team has a strong British identity. I would like to have those sort of patriotic feelings. My father is Finnish, my mother German, and, as I was born in Germany, it's difficult to consider myself anything other than German. But I have nothing to do with Finland and not much with Germany."
He turns from the window, suddenly animated again. "Did you hear what Frank (Sir Frank Williams) said? About winning being like oxygen? That gives me goosebumps." It is perhaps the first time that day that he has really sounded like a 20-year-old, a reminder that if things had worked out differently, he might now be a student at Imperial College London. It offered him a place to take a degree in aerodynamics. Rosberg thought about it, but not for long. "It wasn't a difficult decision. There was a suggestion that I could race and study at the same time, but if I do something, I do it properly. I had won the Formula BMW Series (in 2002, winning nine races) and knew I had the ability to race at the top, so I choose to keep racing."
The use of the first person is worth noting. There are those who will say that Rosberg is the latest rookie to be offered a drive by one of the greatest teams in F1 because his father, Keke, won the world championship for the team back in 1982.
And that without Keke's money and support, young Nico would not be here.
The latter is self-evidently true. Working your way through the junior motorsport ranks is a ludicrously expensive business. Last year, when Nico won the GP2 series, he had to bring about Pounds 850,000 to his team for the privilege of driving its cars. But that does not mean he is not a talent in his own right.
Judgment will be reserved until a few races into the season, but the evidence to date suggests that although he may have a different driving style to his father, he could prove just as effective. In a recent four-day pre-season test at Jerez, Rosberg's fastest time was quicker than those recorded by Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher.
That may say as much about the impressive V8 engine, built by Cosworth for Williams this season, as about the driver, but it's a useful start. Rosberg accepts comparisons with his father, but finds suggestions that he won the drive on grounds other than ability laughable. "It's a difficult thing to deal with and could drive my father and me apart if we let it.The name opens doors, it interests sponsors and the media, and he is my manager. He gives me support and advice about how to deal with stuff happening outside the car -but never about driving."
He leans across for emphasis and continues: "This is the first year I will be paid for driving. There won't be much left after I pay the expenses of my support team, but there will be something. That's important to me.
"I hate asking my father for money to buy jeans or to go out. That's a nightmare.
There's people in Monaco, where I live, who go out partying with their parents' money. They throw it about all over the place and spend it on alcohol, but it's not theirs. I could never do that. I only want to spend money when I have earned it, and I am determined to be successful for myself. Williams are a team that do not bullshit their drivers. Everybody in F1 knows that. If I don't justify that support, I know what will happen."
Earlier in the day he heard Mark Webber, with 69 grand prix starts to his name and now the team's senior driver, enlarge on a "clear the air" meeting, held at the factory halfway through last season, between himself, Sir Frank and director of engineering Patrick Head. No punches were pulled and performances towards the end of the season showed a steady improvement.
Webber, for all his Aussie amiability, is a tough character and a fine driver. His qualifying performances last season in a poor car were startlingly good. At one stage he had looked forward to measuring himself against Button. "It would have been great to have an absolute legend in the other garage," he said on Friday with only a hint of sarcasm.
Rosberg acknowledges that Webber will expect to have the upper hand on the track.
"Of course, because he's very quick. But it will not simply be a question of him being faster, but how much, He could qualify ahead of me in every race, but if I'm very close in times, that isn't a problem. If I'm a lot slower, I'm in trouble."
Sir Frank recognises the differences between father and son. "Keke was more excitable and his car control more spectacular. Nico is more understated but very clever. The way he choreographed his overtaking in GP2 was masterful. I believe Nico can do well."
How well? So much depends on what happens when the FW8 hits the track for the first time in Valencia this week. Rosberg concludes: "I will not say anything about the possibility of winning races until we have seen the new car in action.
Then I will set my goals."
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 2006
Quick learner: Formula One newcomer Nico Rosberg dreams of following in the footsteps of his father, Keke, inset with Nigel Mansell when the pair drove for the Williams team in 1985. Photograph by Mark Thompson