Monday, 11 June 2012


My good friend and fellow F1 enthusiast Balbeer came up with the idea of comparing the Rosbergs. This idea was made further intriguing by the analytical comments of Emma.

The Rosbergs are: 
- father and 1982 World Drivers Champion Keijo ‘Keke’: 1978-1986
- son Nico, currently in his seventh season, having scored a first time win: 2006-current

Each came from such very different eras and situations. Keke’s career spanned nine seasons from 1978 to 1986. Nico’s started in 2006. Both have great self-confidence and each drove for the Williams Team for four years. These factors apart, there are few similarities. Keke was a smoker, Nico is a typical, modern, gym-fit, F1 driver.

The ratings used here are from my Rating System, as explained elsewhere on my blog. The fastest are rated at the figure of 100.0.

Keke Rosberg
Keke was known for his sideways style, of which Jackie Stewart was scathingly critical. Consequently many underestimated his competitiveness and abilities. Frank Williams did not have complete faith in Keke, and had tried to ‘sell’ him to another team for years, which Rosberg found out afterwards! This despite the Finn narrowly winning the extremely competitive 1982 Drivers Championship in his Williams debut season; becoming known as a driver who really gave his all; and for the first, breathtakingly fast, brave, 160 mph/258 km/h pole-setting lap at Silverstone with the awesomely powerful, turbocharged Williams-Honda in 1985. Rob Walker wrote in the November 1985 issue of Road & Track magazine: “Nothing had been seen like him through Woodcote since Ronnie Peterson.”

In late 1979 I had the good fortune of speaking to Jody Scheckter a month after he had won the championship for Ferrari. Asked which of the young drivers he thought talented, Jody said: “Gilles of course, Piquet, Arnoux and someone who others don’t rate, but I do, Rosberg.”

Keke's first season, 1978 Wolf-Cosworth WR6 - Keke’s team leader Jody Scheckter’s shown
Six years later in mild spring sunshine, I sat on the Kyalami pit-lane guardrail chatting to Keke Rosberg. It was the day before the 1985 South African Grand Prix. The teams usually spent a week testing, and the many practice sessions were spread well apart, allowing plenty of time for fans to wander around and chat to drivers and team personnel. No frenetic shoot-out sessions, swipe cards or prohibited access... This was the second-last race of the year, and Keke had signed to drive for McLaren-Porsche for 1986. I asked him about various drivers and the conversation got onto driving styles. Peterson’s intuitive, sliding, sideways method, which Keke admired, and Mario Andretti and Reutemann’s smoothness. I suggested that Andretti and Reutemann were slightly faster, more effective than teammates Peterson and Jones. In his usual forthright manner, Keke said “Jah, but Jones won the Championship, not Reutemann”. Looking at prospects for 1986, I then asked how he would do against Prost’s famed smoothness. “Well, we’ll see about that!”
Keke had quite a reputation among the journalists for being quite blunt, unsmiling and prickly. Afterwards I was - and even now remain - amazed at how direct I had been, yet Keke had been fine and relaxed, without any ‘edge’. His detached, pragmatic and honest attitude was impressive.

Mansell and Rosberg dominated that 1985 South African Grand Prix to finish 1-2 in the powerful, backfiring-and-flame-throwing on overrun, turbocharged Williams-Hondas. According to Motor Sport’s Alan Henry: “For the first few laps Mansell opened out a healthy-looking advantage over Piquet and the rest of the pack, but Rosberg was really flying as usual... and was waved through by his teammate as the Williams-Hondas blared through to start lap nine...” Unfortunately for Keke, as he went into Crowthorne Corner at the end of the 1.6 km/1 mile, 320 km/h/200 mph straight, Ghinzani’s Toleman had blown up and spewed oil all over the racing line. Rosberg spun off, Mansell locked up, just avoided losing it and took the lead. Alan Henry continued: “His adrenalin mixed with a fair level of indignation over that spin, Rosberg came slamming back into contention in his usual ebullient fashion...” Keke almost caught Nigel but had to make a late tyre stop, and finished 8 seconds behind. What a drive; what an exciting driver.

Keke in 1985 turbocharged Williams-Honda FW10, typically ‘going for it’!

Keke had been Jody’s teammate at Wolf for just three races in his 1978 debut season, between five sporadic races for the way off-pace, ATS-March-Cosworth. Unlike their outstanding, almost championship-winning debut season, the 1978 Wolf was 1.5 seconds a lap off-pace. Not an easy start to a career.

This year was little better, as Keke was without a drive until James Hunt suddenly retired from the single-car Wolf team and from F1 after seven races. Keke, called up for the last seven events, retired in six and finished only once, in ninth place. Hunt had retired six times and finished once, in eighth place. Their car well over a second-a-lap off-pace, the Wolf team ceased racing at season’s end.

Rosberg got a precarious seat at the resource-scarce, Fittipaldi team for 1980-81. In his 11 of 14 races in 1980, Keke did well to match the very experienced Emerson Fittipaldi, who doubtless had the team’s better car, scoring a third and a fifth. In 1981 Keke finished only three times and retired in six, the team missing almost half the races. Payment, too, was sporadic or non-existent, which did not inspire driver confidence.

Rosberg’s luck changed for 1982 when he signed for Williams. After two events the faster, deeply talented and experienced Carlos Reutemann suddenly retired from racing. Now clearly the number one and with the slower Derek Daly as teammate, Keke was able to progress. In a close-fought season of eleven different winning drivers and no team dominance, he won the Drivers title. Many were disparaging that he did it scoring only one win. No driver managed more than the two wins each: Prost, Lauda, Watson, Arnoux and Pironi. In 1983 the Williams-Cosworth FW09 was far off-pace as other teams adopted turbochargers. Nevertheless Rosberg scored a win and two seconds, with the easy-going Jacques Lafitte as teammate.

For the 1983 season-ending Kyalami race Williams had Honda turbo-power. In 1984 the Williams team were outclassed by the turbo-experienced Renault, Ferrari and Brabham-BMW outfits. With the Prost-Lauda/McLaren-Porsche ‘steamroller’ dominant and winning 12 of the 16 events, Keke scored a win and two seconds. The win was a great achievement: it was in the heat-wave Dallas Grand Prix on a rough, badly deteriorating track which saw 16 retirements, many from driver fatigue. Like Fangio in his era, Rosberg proved more resilient and more accurate than all, despite being a smoker! Such talents as Prost, Lauda and Mansell damaged their cars on walls. Rosberg touched nothing.

For 1985 Mansell replaced Lafitte at Williams as Rosberg’s teammate. Nigel expected problems from the tough-talking Finn, but after a few races they became good friends, with great respect for each other. Rosberg, now in his fourth season with Williams, was faster overall on season average, scoring two wins, two seconds, a third and three fastest laps. By the last few races however, Nigel had gained confidence and proved a match for Rosberg, scoring two successive wins, two seconds and a fastest lap.

For 1986 Keke had signed with McLaren-Porsche to join Prost after Lauda had retired. The experience was chastening: Keke was dismayed at Prost’s sheer speed. Although the two got on well, Rosberg’s pace dropped by 0.3 on season average, due to being in a new team, and up against one of the greatest drivers of all time. While Prost scored four wins, four seconds and three thirds, Keke managed a second and four fourths. Tellingly, Mansell also dropped pace significantly when paired with Prost at Ferrari in 1990. To his credit, Rosberg publicly and straightforwardly stated how amazing Prost’s speed and all-round abilities were. After leading the 1986 season finale in Adelaide for 63 laps, Keke’s right rear tyre violently shed its tread. Thinking it was engine failure, Keke retired. From the race and from F1 as he intended.

Just five wins, but one Drivers title in his nine season career, of which the first four were not full-time. As always in F1, most is down to the car, your teammate and the competitiveness of rival packages. From 1982 to 1986 Keke had cars within the critical-to-win 100.5 rating. There were however faster cars and such talented drivers as Piquet, Prost, Arnoux, Lauda, Senna, de Angelis and Mansell. In these last five years, only Reutemann for two races, Andretti for one, and Prost throughout 1986, were faster teammates. Keke had been hobbled for 1981-1983 with a 3-litre Cosworth engine against the more powerful turbo cars from Renault, Ferrari and Brabham-BMW.

Twenty years later Keke’s son Nico debuted in F1 with the Williams team.

Aged only 20, Nico in 2006 had the now-experienced, tough and very competent Mark Webber as teammate. He did very well to rate at 100.7 versus Mark’s 100.5 over the season. Nico set fastest lap on debut at Bahrain and finished seventh. Webber managed two sixths. Other packages were faster.

For 2007 Alex Wurz replaced Webber as Nico’s teammate, and Toyota replaced Cosworth as Williams’ engine supplier. Although the car was slower, Nico managed a fourth and three sixths, Wurz a third and a fourth. For 2008 Nakajima replaced Wurz, but the car was even further off- pace. Nico’s increasing experience however bagged a second and a third. The 2009 Williams-Toyota was faster, but the Brawn-Mercedes and Red Bull-Renaults dominated the season, the cars being over half-a-second-a-lap better. The best Nico could score were two fourths, four fifths and a fastest lap.

2010 to date MERCEDES DRIVER
During 2009 Nico had the opportunity to join McLaren or Mercedes for the 2010 season. He opted for the German team, reasoning that Hamilton was entrenched at McLaren and likely to dominate. A big surprise was when Mercedes shortly thereafter signed Michael Schumacher! Most expected the seven-time champion to overwhelm Rosberg. An even bigger surprise was that Nico Rosberg outshone Michael throughout the season, setting faster, best pre-race times at 14 of the 19 races and scoring three third places to Schumacher’s three fourth place finishes. The first Mercedes since 1955, it was as far off-pace as the 2009 Williams-Toyota had been, rating 100.5.

For 2011 the pattern was the same, Nico outpacing Michael, but the new model was over a second-a-lap off-pace! Rosberg’s best placings were two fifths, Schumacher’s one fourth. The car used up its rear tyres within a few laps of the start of each race.

Writing this after the sixth race of 2012, the Monaco GP, the statistics show that the Mercedes had improved, but patchily. It was far faster in pre-race, one-lap times, but was still chewing tyres in the races! However in two events so far, China and Monaco, the car was consistent. In Shanghai Nico had the fastest package and dominated from pole to flag for his first win. At Monaco Michael set an outstanding pole with Nico third fastest, the Webber Red Bull-Renault between them. The regulatory penalty imposed on Schumacher dropped him five grid places, to ruin the race before it started. Nico again drove impeccably to finish within milliseconds of winner Webber’s Red Bull-Renault.

Team engineer reports on Nico Rosberg say he is probably the most technically and theoretically informed driver of all. His understanding of the aero and mechanical workings of the cars is impressive.

Just as had been the case with Keke, many have made disparaging remarks about Nico Rosberg, to the effect that he has been winless for seven seasons, that he has not had very fast teammates for comparison; that he has not achieved much!

None of which is accurate. The car is the most important element. Unless the equipment is fast enough, no driver can win. Rindt, Mansell and Button each endured six winless initial seasons. Were they lacking in talent and ability? So with Nico Rosberg. He debuted in 2006 at a driver rating of 100.7, measured against Webber’s 100.5. This was the same ‘gap’from the front, the top-rating of 100.0, as were Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher in their debut seasons. I reckon Nico has improved each season since and is now driving very close to the bestdrivers.

Nico’s drives at Shanghai and Monaco in 2012 showed he lacks nothing compared with the recognised top-raters Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel and to Webber and Button. The improved competitiveness of Michael Schumacher in 2012 provides a good measure of Nico’s ability and speed. However the 2012 Mercedes is inconsistent: after six races the Rosberg package’s best pre-race times are on average rated at 100.3, second best to the Hamilton/McLaren-Mercedes; but in the races the package pace drops to 100.8, behind six other packages. Too far off for Nico to shine.

It is significant that after six events in 2012 the Nico Rosberg/Mercedes package rates ahead of the Webber/Red Bull-Renault and the Button/McLaren-Mercedes in both pre-race and race speeds. Team-mate Schumacher also rates ahead of the McLaren and Red Bull number twos in race finishing speed. Hamilton has shown that his car is faster in both pre-race and race speed than the Mercedes, and Vettel that his Red Bull-Renault has been faster in race speed. Evidence of Nico Rosberg’s standing as driver: ahead of Webber and Button and close to Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel?

In my opinion Nico is a faster driver than his father Keke. He had the advantages of a far better career start: with an established, experienced team, full seasons from day one, gyms, trainers, simulators and all the modern aids to performance. Today’s cars, tyres and aerodynamics have demands very different from the cars of Keke’s era.

Nico does not, however, have more competitive racing spirit, enthusiasm or car-control than did his father.

According to my ratings, Keke best rated at 100.3, when paired with Mansell at Williams-Honda in 1985, Nico at 100.1 in 2012 (up to the Monaco GP) paired with Michael Schumacher at Mercedes-Benz.. This does not mean that father and son’s performance levels can be directly, mathematically compared. My system indicates how close to the front-runner/s they raced. Nor are the top-raters of different eras necessarily equal. Both Rosbergs faced high quality driver opposition: Keke had Scheckter, Hunt, Gilles Villeneuve, Piquet, Prost, Arnoux, Senna and Mansell. Nico had to contend with Michael Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Button as his strongest driver rivals.

Had Nico taken the McLaren drive in 2010, he’d surely have won at least as often as Jenson’s six times. Like his father, Nico Rosberg is under-rated. Just as Rindt, Mansell and Button were in their first six seasons. And perhaps as Keke had been throughout his career?


© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.


  1. Great reading as ever Patrick! And kind of glad that while the details and maths and stats can yield some kind of comparison, that it's still impossible to compare directly. Lucky for Keke I'd say! There's been a few things on the web that have made me really admire Keke too, and I can actually imagine his reply to you being just as you described, non-offended and simply direct, honest and no doubt just happy to be shooting the breeze with a fellow F1 enthusiast! Keke comes across as really, really warm-hearted, and tbh, Nico seems like a really grounded individual in many ways too. Thanks again!

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  3. Thanks for that lalaeuro. The Rosbergs certainly are an interesting pair of drivers, with Nico enigmatic and perhaps difficult to place?