x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Rosberg slows down to take in more of his most successful Formula One season

German eager to keep fighting and keep hold of second place for Mercedes-GP

Nico Rosberg wants to slow down and appreciate his triumphs this season, but not so much that Mercedes-GP lose their grip on second place in the manufacturers' standings. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Nico Rosberg wants to slow down and appreciate his triumphs this season, but not so much that Mercedes-GP lose their grip on second place in the manufacturers' standings. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // “It is a very quick life in this sport,” Nico Rosberg said, in what must be one of the gross understatements in the history of Formula One.

The 28-year-old German driver competes at speeds in excess of 300kph and when he is not behind the wheel of his Mercedes-GP, he is more than likely on a jet plane en route to a city where he will, on arrival, get behind the wheel of his Mercedes. It is a non-stop, nomadic lifestyle that even during the two-month off-season is more brake-work than work break.

Rosberg, whose father Keke won the 1982 world championship, is approaching the end of his eighth season at the elite level of single-seat motorsport. Yet such is the pace of paddock life that his F1 career seems to have flown by in half the time. There is little doubt that this year has been his breakthrough season, with victories in Monte Carlo and Silverstone seeing him treble his number of career race wins.

“It’s been a good season because, as a team, we are really progressing,” he said on Wednesday at a promotional event for Starwood at the Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel. “We are second in the constructors’ championship, so the second-best team out there and that is a huge step for us. Last year we were fifth so to go from fifth to second in a season, without any major rule changes, is a big success.”

This weekend’s Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, which starts tomorrow at Yas Marina Circuit, is the first of three remaining races, and while Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have already secured both championships, Rosberg’s Mercedes are by no means ready to wrap up early to gain an extra few weeks vacation.

“We need to hold on to second place, which won’t be easy, but that’s the goal,” said Rosberg, who, in the rare moments he gets to sleep in his own bed, calls Monte Carlo – and, increasingly, Ibiza – home. “We are in a tough fight, with us, Ferrari and Lotus all on the same level. So that is the battle we have at the moment. We need everything to go right for us to get second.”

Rosberg calls his triumph in May, on the streets where he grew up, “the high point of my career”, adding that he reckons it “probably always will be”. Only a world title would eclipse victory at his home grand prix in the principality – and next season it is exactly this that is a topic of conversation.

At the start of this year, Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton played down expectations for 2013, ruling out a title fight and Hamilton going one step farther to claim race wins were practically impossible. Thanks to exceptional performances in qualifying during the middle of the year, expectations have been thoroughly exceeded with Rosberg’s pair of wins being complemented by Hamilton’s victory in Hungary.

The result is, courtesy of an overhaul of the sport’s rule book, both drivers are widely tipped to fight for the drivers’ championship. New engine regulations are likely to benefit the Mercedes works team, who manufacture their own engines.

“It is a massive opportunity for us as a team to make that last step and become the best,” Rosberg said. “Next year, everybody is starting from scratch and we are at a point where we have massive strength in depth because the staff has been really built up over the past four years. Now we have a very strong team, as we have seen this season.

“But now the expectations have risen, too. Now I am looking forward and I say we have to do better. I am no longer thinking it is cool to win races, but instead that I want to win every race and win the championship.”

One of his main rivals next year is likely to be Hamilton. The two drivers raced karts together as teenagers and they consider themselves friends first and teammates second.

“For us, it’s quite amazing,” he said. “We were teammates when we were 13-14 and racing for Mercedes-Benz McLaren go-karting team. We were dominating the go-karting at the time and we would say to each other, ‘Imagine one day we could be in a top F1 team together fighting for F1 victories’.

“We were just dreaming, yet, 14 years later, now it is a reality. And, of course, we are teammates at Mercedes, so it has come round full circle. It is really an amazing story.”

And one that was written at breakneck speed.