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Shedding a father's shadow: the new GP2 champion's route to the top

Nico Rosberg displays steely self-discipline

Shedding a father's shadow: the new GP2 champion's route to the top
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By Juha Päätalo in Manama, Bahrain
      When Nico Rosberg showed up at the post-race press conference after winning the Formula GP2 Grand Prix here on Friday, he had slipped a white T-shirt on over his overalls. It carried the unambiguous message "I Did It - Nico GP2 Champion 2005".
He would not really have needed the T-shirt. Every pore in the 20-year-old's body oozed the same self-confident signal: I'm simply the best.
      And it had been the same on the track. Rosberg started from 8th on the grid, overtook one rival after another, and crowned his season with a double victory in Bahrain. He had also won the first race on Thursday, and in so doing he sealed the drivers' title in the inaugural Formula GP2 World Championship.
      "This was one of the best races of my life", said Rosberg. "Maximum attack, no mistakes."
Formula GP2 is the second-highest marque in formula motor racing after F1.
      It was introduced in 2005 as the successor to the long-running and now defunct Formula One "feeder" sport, Formula 3000.
      For Rosberg, winning the title like this means that the only logical ambition for next year is a seat in a Formula One car. Probably as a test-driver for the Williams team, where Rosberg family traditions are strong.
      "This seems almost certain already, but there is a slim chance that I might get a place as a race driver. I'm negotiating right now with Williams and BMW", reports Rosberg.
Nico Rosberg was born on June 27th, 1985, in Wiesbaden, Germany. The son of Finland's first Formula One World Champion Keijo "Keke" Rosberg (who won the title with Williams in 1982), Nico grew up in a cosmopolitan household. His mother Sina is German, and German is also the family's first language.
      For all that, Nico Rosberg spent his childhood in French-speaking Monaco and attended the International School in Nice. This sort of background has made him into a citizen of the world, speaking fluent German, English, French, and Italian. But not Finnish.
      Rosberg Jr.'s childhood has created for him an identity that he regards simply as "European".
"I've noticed that there is something missing, something that for instance the Brazilian drivers have when they come up to the podium to celebrate their victory with the Brazilian flag", says Rosberg.
      "It would be nice if I felt the same way. When my win here was celebrated with the playing of the German national anthem, it felt kind of weird to me. I don't have that sense of belonging, either to Germany or to Finland. Maybe when I'm driving races I sort of feel a stronger pull towards Finland, since it reminds me of my father's achievements in the sport."
      When Nico Rosberg he was driving in the German Formula BMW series in 2002, it was with a Finnish licence. But in GP2 he has raced under the German flag.
"I had to choose one of my nationalities. Since I am a driver who does not have any big corporate sponsors behind me, it is easier to get into Formula One if you are seen to come from a big country the size of Germany", says Rosberg.
      "Still, it's a great situation that in Germany I'm regarded as German, and in Finland as a Finn. And it's quite right, too, since I am my father's son."
      It does not unduly trouble him that his relationship with Finland is looser than for instance that of his GP2 rival Heikki Kovalainen.
      "No, I'm a citizen of two countries, and I accept that for what it is."
The youngster's rock-solid sense of self, on the other hand, would not disgrace an American heavyweight boxer. Behind it hides a personage who is extraordinarily hard on himself. "No external pressures come close to the expectations that I set on myself when I'm driving", admits Rosberg.
      "I'm a fighter to the very end, very ambitious, and I hate losing. If I had come 2nd in GP2 this year it would have eaten away at me for a long time. As a race-driver I'm definitely aware of my ability, and some might say I'm even overly proud. And yet in my private life I'm an extremely shy person."
      Unlike many drivers, Rosberg was also ambitious in the classroom at school.
      "I got a great grade average from high school, and it was also important to me, because I want to do whatever I do properly", he adds.
When his classmates in Nice began to look around in their last year for places to study, Rosberg was briefly in two minds as to what to do. "They were looking at the five best universities that they wanted to apply to", he says.
      "So, in the end I applied as well, and I put in papers to study aerodynamics in London. I got accepted, too, but after the Formula BMW season [Rosberg won the title] I realised that my only real dream was to become a professional racing driver."
If Nico is "driven", it is above all by seeking to emulate his father's track achievements. The dream of a racing career caught fire in Keke Rosberg's last year on the DTM touring-car championship circuit, when Nico was just ten years old.
      "To mark Dad's last competition we did a lap of honour before the race in his car, or in a cabriolet version of it", recalls the younger Rosberg, his eyes shining.
      "We were sat up there on the roof of the car, waving, and we both had these driver's overalls on, and there was me the Mini-Rosberg and my dad the Maxi-Rosberg. The stands were full of people and the noise was deafening, it made you feel faint. I knew right then that one day I was going to be a successful driver, too."
Nico Rosberg has had a taste of the helmeted-hero role already this year.
      "When we were doing Formula One testing at the Monza circuit, I walked past the press-room just as Jacques Villeneuve was coming out", recalls Rosberg. "The fans outside shouted out his name, and I thought ‘Nobody knows who I am'. But then they suddently started yelling my name. It was a great feeling."
He still has a long way to climb to the top.
      "Winning GP2 is ultimately nothing much. To most people I'm going to be Keke's son for a long time to come", shrugs Rosberg.
      "It would feel good to be my own person, to have my own identity, since it seems to me that I've also earned that."
      At the same time that he acknowledges that the shadow of a famous father will not be lifted before he has at least one Formula One victory to his own name, Nico does not seem overly troubled by the matter: "I'm very proud of my father."
Within the family itself, meanwhile, the younger Rosberg has long since cut the umbilical cord. On racing weekends he stays in different hotels from Keke, and in other respects the generations seek to preserve a certain distance. This is also evident in one or two of Nico Rosberg's comments.
      "Dad, he's a royal Mister Pessimism. I mean, a completely hopeless case. Sometimes he looks at my car before I go out in qualifying and he just shakes his head, as if he thinks there's some part in there that's about to fall off", says Nico, and shakes his own head in disbelief.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.10.2005

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Helsingin Sanomat

  4.10.2005 - THIS WEEK
 Shedding a father's shadow: the new GP2 champion's route to the top

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