F1's next big thing arrives in Nico time, and he's quick

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Date: May 28, 2006
Publisher: Fairfax Media Publications Pty Limited
Document Type: Article
Length: 981 words

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Byline: Peter McKay

Nico Rosberg was born and bred to be a formula one racing champion, writes Peter McKay. A WINNING DNA, a surname that kicks open doors, marketable puppy dog looks at home in a soapie, fluent in several languages and, most importantly, he can steer a car - it's small wonder second-generation racer Nico Rosberg is creating a stir in grand prix racing. Nico is not the first son of a gun to lob into F1. There have been others. Damon Hill (who, like his father Graham, won a world title), Jacques Villeneuve (who won the title his father Gilles missed) and Michael Andretti and David Brabham, each sired by F1 champions. But few have arrived on the F1 scene with this much hype. The season was just three races old when stories emerged that Rosberg was the target of some of the big teams, specifically McLaren, with the 20-year-old linked to a drive with world champion Fernando Alonso there next season. WilliamsF1, with some history of losing big driving talents, were quick to circle the wagons. Frank Williams initially was reluctant to comment. Eventually, he said Rosberg would stay with his "big future" at Williams. Comparisons between Nico and his swashbuckling father Keke, the 1982 world champion, are inevitable. The genes, Keke's world title with Williams, Nico's precocious talent and clear ambition demand it. "Nico has a wider technical knowledge than his father," Williams said. "He is very fast and aggressive." Nico received an enthusiastic welcome at his father's alma mater. The Rosberg-Williams romance deepened after his first GP when, after an early mistake, Nico stormed through the field for seventh-place points and clocked the fastest lap. Also Nico's manager, Keke suggests his son must wait some time to experience the podium top step. Keke, 57, was one of F1's characters. A chain-smoker with a flamboyant driving style at odds with, out of the car, a Finnish brew of cockiness and pessimism. Nico has a contemporary view of smoking: disgusting. Other differences: Nico is quieter, more reserved but quick to converse on subjects outside the relatively small ego-driven F1 universe. Similarities? Determination, suggests Nico, and competitiveness. Keke retired from F1 in 1986 after 114 GPs and only five wins. Those who recall his style, inevitably sideways in a glorious controlled oversteer slide, know he was better. Born in 1985, Nico missed his father's glory years in F1, but has vague memories of him racing in the (German) DTM touring car series. Nico's childhood in Monaco was as normal as a privileged kid enjoying the wealth and position attached to his father's fame and success could be. He was encouraged to follow scholastic, sporting and self-improvement avenues. He has not lived in Finland and can't speak Finnish. He was born in Germany to a German mother and, due to Monte Carlo's cosmopolitan environment, chats comfortably in German, English, Italian and French. He can't recall deciding to be a racing driver, conceding there was possibly an inevitability to this career path, even though he considered a degree in aerodynamics. Keke bought him a kart at age 10 and an early interest in tennis faded with good results on the track. He also appreciated his compact size, ideal for the race car's snug cockpit. He had early success, winning the Formula BMW series in 2002 and scored a Williams test drive at the end of the season. "It was sensational," he said after his first, thrilling laps. "I don't want to drive anything else. The first laps were like a PlayStation game. Everything went so fast and seemed so unreal. My father advised me not to attempt too much and enjoy the experience." He tested again at the end of 2003, but only revealed more of his talent last season, winning the GP2 title. "The biggest step is the cars are faster.You need to put in a lot more effort. These are the best drivers in the world," Nico said. His initiation has been made easier by the rapport with teammate Mark Webber. They get on fine. So far. "Our relationship, I'd say, is good. We work well together for the team," Webber told The Sun-Herald. "I think how we interact with the engineers is a good blend. We have a mix of experience and youth to call upon. "I've always said I like to be tested within my own team and Nico's been reasonably quick at some races this year, which is a good challenge for me to respond to. Like most lads at that age, he's supremely confident." But just three races into his F1 experience, Rosberg found himself on the end of a serious talking to from Williams' straight-shooting Australian technical director Sam Michael. He'd qualified a lifeless 15th for the Australian GP and, in the race, got no further than the first corner when he collided with Felipe Massa. The honeymoon was over for F1's newest sensation. Nico says it's not easy, that everything is so very much faster. "You have to change things here, there and everywhere, every lap. The steering wheel has about 30 different knobs and each of them have about eight different positions." Today, Nico Rosberg tackles his first Monaco GP. An intimate knowledge of Monte Carlo's best restaurants and coffee shops won't help when the race starts. "Racing in the town where I have lived all my life, with my friends supporting me on such a fascinating circuit, will be great," he said. "I'm going into the weekend with a strong belief that we can do well."

CAPTION(S):THREE PHOTOS: FATHER AND SON: Nico Rosberg, right, talks tactics with his father, manager and former F1 champion Keke. Picture: Getty Images FAST LANE: Nico Rosberg has the breeding, looks and speed for the glamorous world of F1 but found big trouble, below, at the first corner of the Australian GP. Pictures: Getty and AP

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A283621629