Byline: PETER McKAY
The son of former F1 world champion Keke Rosberg has inherited not only his dad's driving ability, but also his head for business, writes Peter McKay. AS ONE of the elite 20 current formula one drivers, Nico Rosberg has a precocious talent and fame, along with a generous accompanying salary. He lives a glamorous life either at home in Monaco or travelling the world the five-star, first-class way as a grand prix racer. He has a former world champion father, Keke, whom he can go to for advice. In his teenaged years he played tennis well enough to represent Monaco. A new Audi RS6 rocket sits in his garage at home. He is a handsome devil, too. There's not much he hasn't got going for him. And he's just 23. He's the new breed of racing driver who is more likely to be found with his head buried in the Financial Times than frivolously playing computer games. Rosberg is a German national, who also speaks perfect English, and fluent Italian, French and, most recently, Spanish. Oddly he doesn't speak the native tongue of his father, one of the legendary irrepressible flying Finns. Nico hasn't inherited the driving flamboyance of his father, who was one of the great track entertainers of the late 1970s and early '80s with a lurid technique that employed lots of tail-out power slides - oversteer in the language of motor sport. "Today's F1 cars are so different," Nico said. "You have to be smooth and clean. If you have oversteer, you're in trouble. That said, I do prefer oversteer to understeer." Being the son of a famous dad has its benefits and disadvantages. "In one way it is not so easy because, as you grow up, you get compared. But the name helps to get sponsors." Rosberg, who will start on the third row in today's 2009 Australian formula one grand prix, says he has become something of an ardent reader of books, but only books with the potential to further his knowledge. Money subjects are of specific interest. Putting aside a book called the Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown, Nico was happy to talk, firstly about money - making it and keeping it - but then about stuff as varied as oversteer and backgammon. "In future I'll (earn) some money through sport. They say it's easier to make money than it is to keep it. A lot of people get it wrong." Like Bjorn Borg, he suggests "Fortunately for me, my father has been along this path," said the second-generation racer, who started his F1 career in 2006. Keke Rosberg, world champion in 1982 and winner of the first F1 Australian Grand Prix in 1985, made a pile of money from racing, and while he was still driving he used it to create his own business, a driver management company. Nico observed: "My dad is a very wise person. Even when he was racing, he was managing drivers he was competing against, drivers like Thierry Boutsen." Keke is not in Melbourne this year. "We have an agreement that my father doesn't come to all of the races. He's a demanding person to have around." Instead, Nico talks to Keke regularly by phone on race weekend. Nico admits he has been surprised by the speed of his Phillips Williams-Toyota at Albert Park. "After testing, the optimistic view coming to Melbourne was that we might be the fifth-best team. "Our negative view was that we could be further down. But perhaps we have made a small step forward because we are looking better than expected." Rosberg cautiously senses Williams may be in for a good year after some seasons of struggle. In 53 grand prix starts, all with Williams, Rosberg has a scant return of two podiums including a third place in Melbourne last year. Williams has certainly been one of the surprise packets in Melbourne after the upheaval caused by the wholesale changes to sporting and technical regulations. Every team has been forced to virtually start from zero, says Rosberg, with changes to the fundamental aerodynamic package having the greatest impact on the car's performance. Three teams - Toyota, Brawn and Williams - have interpreted the rules on aero diffusers in a way that appears to have given them a keen edge to date. The mandated loss of 1000 engine revs to an 18,000rpm limit has had no obvious influence. "The engine feels the same; Toyota has done a good job in recovering any loss of power," he said. The return of slicks has been another factor. Bridgestone supplies two different compounds to all teams at every race, and both types must be used during the grand prix. "The degradation of the soft compound rubber is huge. In six laps yesterday we lost about four seconds. But the hard compound tyre is very consistent." It will make for interesting tyres tactics. The stated aim of the new aero and tyre regs, which includes making overtaking easier, seems to have been realised, if Rosberg's Friday experiences are any guide. "I was behind some cars yesterday and I flew by them, something I have never experience before in my F1 career," he said. "I don't know how much of this will be the case in the race but it would be nice for the sport. "If it happens at Albert Park, it'll certainly happen at other tracks (where overtaking is easier)." Rosberg is pleased that Williams decided not to develop KERS - kinetic energy recovery system - but instead concentrated on the basics of aerodynamics in the new car. "Yes, while KERS can give a driver three-tenths a lap, the weight of the system, around 40 kilos, at the rear of the car can upset the balance." As personable and thoughtful as Nico Rosberg is, he doesn't have mates among the other 19 drivers in formula one. "No, a mate is someone you call up to go away with on holidays, or maybe go clubbing on Sunday night after a race." Away from the track, Nico plays poker, chess and backgammon "and a lot of soccer". He watches plenty of sport, and also watches what he eats. Picking as gingerly as a supermodel at a small plate of pasta and cheese, he reveals he embarked on a diet through the northern winter. What does he weigh? "I won't say. But less than 70kilos." Everything in F1 is shrouded in secrecy.
CAPTION(S):PHOTO: Nico Rosberg, delighted by the speed of his Phillips Williams-Toyota in practice for today's Australian Grand Prix. PICTURE: JOHN DONEGAN