Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The racing Rosbergs

Going out at the very top, Nico Rosberg quits Formula One after taking the world championship, which was also won by his father. Mohamed Abdel-Razek reviews the family legacy

After his recent podium finish in Abu Dhabi, which granted him his first ever world champion title, Nico Rosberg, 31, posted a video on Facebook captioned in German “Danke Papa und Mama”, simple words thanking his father and mother for all what they did for him to reach this point in his career. The footage in the video showed more than any words could describe: a whole family surrounding their little hero who looks like he’s five years old, encouraged with love and passion to put his little feet inside his kart and spin around the garden, learning racing lines while his father Keke is observing from a nearby tower to see his son’s progress. Keke was taking it seriously, and to make sure everything goes according to plan, he tried to keep a close relationship with his son, so he became his manager, and convinced him to take his world champion winning No 6.

No one knew what was coming or what was going inside Rosberg’s mind. The media speculated whether the German champion would win more world champions in the upcoming seasons, since he is still only 31. But Rosberg stunned the world when he decided to end his F1 career. He made the announcement during the FIA Prize Giving 2016 on Friday 2 December. He said it was his life’s dream since he was six to be an F1 world champion, and with the help of his family, friends and fans he managed to make it happen. “The last two years were tough on me and my family. We all made sacrifices, we put everything”, said Rosberg, racing under the German flag, his mother’s nationality. The champion stressed that he didn’t help his family much. They had to take all the night shifts with his daughter helping him to rest and work for his dream. “I am not willing to do this again. That is why it is time to go.”

Keijo Erik Rosberg, known as Keke, is now a proud father after 31 years, seeing his son doing what he did once before. Was it coincidence? No it wasn’t. It took Keke years of preparation since he first gave his son some shots of pure Formula One DNA, hoping he would get a path paved better than his.  

Keke, who raced under the Finnish flag, debuting his first F1 race at the late age of 30, gave up his dream to be a dentist and was able to write his name in the hall of fame in 1982 with Williams, among the all-time greats who won the Formula One world champion. With the least resources in his naturally aspirated Williams FW 076 V8 with its Ford V8 engine, racing against turbocharged cars at a time when titans like Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, and Gilles Villeneuve were racing, Keke did it. Yes it was a sad season for some drivers not being in top form, and sadder still after the tragic death of Villeneuve during the qualifying session in the Belgian Grand Prix. But that was the deal back then. Formula One fans in the 70s, 80s and 90s knew Formula One could take many lives but that it was part of the game.

With five poles, five wins, 17 podiums, and a world championship, Keke left the world of Formula One in 1986 after nine years of racing. Not much, but enough for Keke to be his son’s biggest hero.

Keke then decided to build the most precious project of his life, his son, to bring back their family name to the most prestigious motorsport competition on the FIA calendar, hoping for another world champion to make them the second father and son to win the world champion after legends Graham and Damon Hill.

At the age of 17, Nico Rosberg became the youngest ever to test an F1 car, and in 2006 at the age of 21 he made his F1 debut with Williams. He joined Mercedes in 2010 alongside the German legend Michael Schumacher. It was during that time when he turned heads by his exquisite performance that led him to scoring more points (324 to 197) and wins (5 to 1) than the seven-time world champion Schumacher, who said that Rosberg was one of the fastest teammates he ever had.  

In 2013, Lewis Hamilton arrived to replace Schumacher. Everyone thought the childhood friends would form the best team spirit but Hamilton had only one friend — winning. He had no friends on the track and few off it. That created friction between Rosberg and Hamilton and sometimes between Rosberg and the team director who preferred Hamilton in their strategies and even car setup, delaying Rosberg’s world champion win.

The heat remained but politics had the stronger hand. Mercedes knew they could not lose one of the best potential drivers who would help them win the championship. It was clear since the start of the 2016 season that Mercedes started a new team strategy treating both drivers as the first driver should be.

That was enough for Rosberg to show them what he can do, and that he was right when he wanted some space to stretch his legs next to Hamilton, who is most probably still angry, even though weeks have elapsed since losing the world champion.

Hamilton went in the last race of the 2016 season in Abu Dhabi in second place in the world driver’s championship rankings. He had to win the race and knock Rosberg off the podium to win the world championship. Hamilton decided he would do everything and anything to increase the chances of realising the scenario.

In the UAE, Hamilton kept holding on to first position and when the race was closing to the last 10 laps, rather than widening the gap between himself and Rosberg’s car in second place, he decided to ignore the team radio orders to increase his pace and slowed down to increase the pressure on his supposed teammate who had Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen pushing behind him.

But Rosberg kept fighting in every corner because he wanted to make his hero, Keke, and his whole family proud.

He crossed the line in second, enough for the overall win, screaming with joy on the team radio to his family: “We did it.”

Hamilton’s attempt to ruin the party left him trying to defend himself. “I did nothing wrong,” he told the media, hoping to mollify his angry boss Toto Wolff.

Rosberg had so much pressure on him during the season that in the Suzuka Grand Prix he decided that if he won he would retire. “Two Rosbergs are world champions now,” said Keke. “It takes a lot of sacrifice to stay so focused. It was my childhood dream and that is done,” he said right after the Abu Dhabi race.

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