Rosberg the star attraction is quick to grow into leading role

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Author: Sue Mott
Date: Mar. 11, 2006
Publisher: Telegraph Group Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,898 words

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ENTER Nico Rosberg. Cue: lights, cameras, revving engines, dancing girls and live coverage of the first Formula One race of the season in Bahrain tomorrow. We have a new boy on the grid and since F1 and Hollywood are so inextricably mixed, it is only appropriate that Williams' new driver, the son of 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg, should be the image of Leonardo DiCaprio. Blonder, perhaps. Less involved in sinking ships? We will see this season.

Williams had a rough time last year. Rosberg Jnr is part of a brave experiment to revive their fortunes. It is not an all bad idea. He was GP2 champion last year. He won Formula BMW in 2002. He was offered a place to read aerodynamics at Imperial College in London. He speaks four languages. He scored the highest marks yet in a Williams-devised test to measure the mechanical knowledge of their drivers. His dad, also his manager, knows a thing or two. And he's cute. Some would say this is a fine move by Sir Frank Williams, whose astuteness is renowned.

"I feel completely at one with the car. Completely. One hundred per cent,'' said Rosberg, in the blue-and-chrome bar at the Williams team HQ that could easily double as the lair of Dr No. There is something smooth, lavish and mechanical about it that shrieks money. Rosberg had just been in the simulator, where matters were slightly less smooth and mechanical. He came off the track once, but as pounds 10 million worth of technology did not go up in smoke, no one seemed to mind terribly much.

The driver himself was very charming. "I just want to say, sorry if I'm a bit down today,'' he said apologetically. "But I'm a bit tired. I came from six days testing straight to here. I had to get up early. I just want to say that.'' Like most recent teenagers, he needs his sleep. "Yes I do. Also getting up early is not a thing I like to do.'' Typical kid ... boy ... man, I corrected myself hastily. "Kid!'' he exclaimed hotly. "I'm not that young, you know. I'm 20. It's not that young.'' Did he feel fully grown up? "No,'' he admitted, and confessed to surprise at the speed of his elevation into the supercharged world of F1.

"The biggest step for me is that the cars are faster, you need to put in a lot more effort, the competition is fiercer and these are the best drivers in the world. All of them. Also, it's difficult to overtake. I was driving behind some people in testing, and it's impossible. It's actually quite shocking. Because I'm not used to that from the other cars I've driven.

"Those are the main differences but I'm not worried about the publicity. I have a way to go to be similar to David Beckham. Having a public face is something that happened to me by being the son of my father. I've had a bit of time to get used to it all.

"I always wanted to drive. Ever since I was nine or 10, it was something I wanted to do. I am a very determined person and watching my dad was always fascinating. I hoped one day I would do it myself.

"I remember dad's last race at Hockenheim, not in F1 any more, but it was a huge race day. We did a lap on the roof of the car before the race. I was sitting next to him, waving to the crowd, in the same racing overalls as he wore. We both had 'Rosberg' on the back.'' As a day out for a nine-year-old male, it had its pluses.

People ask him about comparisons with his father. All the time (60 one-on-one interviews since last November). "You really can't compare with something such a long time ago. Dad climbed out of the car for the last time in F1 in 1986. When I was born. I don't think because of me. He was tired. Starting to get afraid. I think he was about 39 then.''

Rosberg the younger understands the fear. He just treats it differently. "I do have fear, I do. On some occasions I think, 'Hmm, if something goes wrong here, it's not going to be looking good for me.' There are some tracks, some places, where it's actually pretty crazy. Very dangerous. But it doesn't slow me down at all. You know that things are so safe nowadays even if you do crash that only if you're really unlucky will something bad happen. Normally you will just have cuts and bruises and that's it.''

Women will sympathise with Sina Rosberg, who married Keke and mothered Nico. To have one man in the family squeezed into a cockpit moving at 200mph is one thing, to have both is highly unfortunate. "She did say to me, 'Are you sure it's what you want to do? Why don't you go into another area?' I was part of the Monaco junior tennis team for a while. That's where I grew up. Dad [who is Finnish] would say it was for religious reasons we moved there. It's a joke. [It was for tax reasons]. But it is actually a very beautiful place.

"I was very good at tennis but you have to put in hours that are absolutely crazy. You'd have to really love the sport to put in that kind of time. And I'm not tall enough either.'' He is, indeed, the compact shape required for insertion into a space about the size of a cat basket.

That is not his only virtue either. Thanks to the cosmopolitan nature of Monaco, Nico grew up speaking fluent English, German, French and Italian. He passed all his exams except history ("a catastrophe'') and adored science and maths. He is beginning to sound most unlike your average sportsman.

Along with these virtues, he has genes. "Dedication is probably something I have inherited from my dad. And competitiveness, the will to succeed. I've thought about these things. I often stand back and look at my situation from the outside, like with a camera. Do you understand? I think about things. I think about all the things I have from my dad. Like determination. Different to the way he had it, but still the same.

"There is more use of the head included with me. He was just steamed up. That's the way I perceive it. I'm a little more analytical. Also, because of the Finnish side to my personality, I can be quite a shy person. That's Scandinavian. And I'm quite pessimistic. Which is horrible. It's terrible. I hate it. Dad shows it. I don't. But, anyway, it's the same. I always look at the negative side. So does dad. He is always looking at things negatively. To protect himself, also, that nothing can get worse.

"Even when I'm on the grid and he walks round my car, if he sees something wrong you can see it on his face. Then he tells me about it. He looks at something on the car and he'll say, 'That's never going to hold'.''

You can just imagine the grizzled parent, shaking his head and saying in tones redolent of Eeyore's gloom, "Never hold''. Poor Nico. "I say to him, 'Just don't tell me.' ''

But surely, Keke, a grown man, had become better at managing his pessimism over the years. "No, not at all. And I do this too. But I keep it to myself. I do it over many things. Relationships with girlfriends. I tend to think negative rather than positive. The girlfriend doesn't know. But I always think it will go wrong. It's not really that bad. I'm exaggerating but it's like that.

"Luckily, I got things from my mum too because I'm quite a happy person. I seem happy now even though I'm totally destroyed because I'm so tired. And I'll be really happy when the first race in Bahrain finally starts. I have great memories there. Because that's where I won the GP2 championship last year. I'm very confident. I like the track and I'm quick on the track. I have a strong belief in myself and I'm generally very pleased with the car.''

The world has already been flooded with pictures of Nico and his new FW28. At this moment it is just a pose. Soon it could be a double act.

"It's not easy,'' he warned. "Everything is so very much faster. At the same time you have a lot more things to do. You have to change things here, there and everywhere, every lap. Here you have only one split second because the next corner is coming already. The steering wheel has about 30 different knobs and each of them has about eight different positions.''

You begin to appreciate the responsibility he holds. Some of us struggle to indicate right while listening to the radio in the driver's seat of our trundling vehicle. The thought of making 240 decisions about 30 knobs in eight positions at the speed of sound is mind-boggling.

"Now I'm on top of it,'' he said firmly. "I'll be nervous before the race. But that's a normal thing. I've always been quite strong and always had my strongest days when the pressure was on most. It helps you with concentration and makes you a bit more aggressive. I don't work with a psychologist but because I'm someone who thinks a lot, I do some basic things to switch off. Last year I did some meditation because I had a Chinese physiotherapist.''

Rosberg is mildly superstitious. Last year he wore the same pair of racing boots all season, even though they finished in holes. Otherwise, apart from being smart, wealthy, soon-to-be famous, a superstar lookalike and brilliant on the laws of physics, he is just "an ordinary guy'', as he put it.

"I like friends, family, beach, bars and, mainly, just playing sports. I've been asked to play in a tennis tournament in Melbourne, when we're there, with some of the tennis stars playing with us.'' You can imagine some of the young, willowy, female tennis sensations catching his eye. "Really?'' His tiredness seemed to leave him. "Who?''

I take it from this he doesn't have a girlfriend. "I do,'' he contradicted. She must be very understanding. "Oh, you know,'' he said, looking vaguely out of the window.

Love and motor racing, two of the greatest war zones invented by man, and he has chosen a place in both. There are rumours of fireworks to come between him and his senior Williams team-mate, Mark Webber. Australians have a tendency to be forthright. So far all is sweetness. Not so much as a row about a wheel nut. "We're not at all [at war]. Of course, we haven't had the first race yet. But he's been very welcoming and a great guy. If he wasn't a great guy I'd say so. You don't have to like your team-mate. But we'll work together well, I think.''

People underestimated Rosberg last year. "Anyway, that's not my ... cup of tea?'' He hesitated. "What do you say in English?''

"I think you mean it's not your problem,'' I said. He assented. His more immediate problems, it is obvious, are those 30 knobs on the steering wheel.

MOTT ONLINE

www.telegraph.co.uk/mott

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A143092580