F1 » Nico Rosberg
As a karting champion in France when only twelve and then youngest man to ever drive a Formula One car, aged just 17 in December 2002, Nico Rosberg's racing career has always been running in the fast lane.
Of course, being the son of the 1982 world champion Keke, who shrewdly guides his career, has certainly opened doors for the cool and assured Rosberg, who has thus far passed all the hurdles in the junior formula with ever increasing assuredness.
With his parents domiciled in Monaco, the young Nico, was a very promising tennis player but opted to take up karting as it dovetailed neatly with his education. The youngster spent five seasons in the discipline before moving up to cars in 2002 to contest the BMW Formula series in Germany. The ease with which nine race wins and the title came as some surprise to the rookie, but it opened the door for an immediate graduation into the Formula 3 Euroseries with his father's Team Rosberg for 2003.
In strong field, Nico driving an Opel powered Dallara took a win at Le Mans and placed eighth overall in his debut year, finishing second to Christian Klien in the Rookie Cup. Much was expected for the following season and a pair of wins in the opening round at Hockenheim seemed to signal a championship bid, but thereafter Rosberg's challenge stuttered, and despite a win at the Nurburgring, the German passport holder, ended up somewhat a disappointed fourth in the standings.
It was the 2005 season in which Rosberg really came of age. Away from the familiar surroundings of his father's team, Nico eventually decided to join Formula 3 graduates ASM, renamed ART, for the newly introduced GP2 series. He immediately gelled with his new team, and after a hesitant start by all concerned, the young Rosberg finally delivered a win at Magny Cours in July. This was followed by another victory following race at Silverstone and suddenly Rosberg was looking a championship contender. He eventually edged out the talented Finn Heikki Kovalainen with the pair Formula 1 aspirants well clear of the rest of the opposition.
Having already hugely impressed in his 2005 test role for Williams, it came as no surprise when young Nico was chosen to partner Mark Webber in the team for 2006. Such is Sir Frank's belief in his young charge that he has signed up the youngster to a long-term contract confident that he has true world championship potential.
His debut season in F1 though was not easy, especially given that the Williams package was far from competitive. Indeed while he had a dream start, and finished seventh on his first outing in Bahrain to score two points and set the fastest lap, he would manage only one other points' finish during the year.
Furthermore while he was hyped as the next big thing in the early part of the year, as the season progressed, his inexperience began to tell and ultimately his next best results - after seventh in Bahrain and seventh at the Nurburgring - were two ninth places finishes in Britain and America. Nico eventually ended 2006 having scored 4 points in total and was classified 17th in the drivers' championship.
Rosberg remained with Williams for 2007, where he was joined by veteran Alex Wurz, promoted from the role of test driver. Eager to bounce back from a less-than-spectacular end to his first season in F1, the German opened his account with seventh in round one and benefited from improved reliability and Toyota power in the Williams camp to get miles under his belt. However, more often than not in the first half of the season, his results did not match up to either his or the FW29's potential, with only a solitary sixth to add to his tally before the mid-point at Silverstone.
Thereafter, things looked up, with successive scores sandwiched between DNFs in the European and Japanese GPs, and a season-high of fourth at the Brazilian finale to secure ninth in the standings.
Rosberg's combative displays made his a target for rival teams, notably McLaren and Toyota, but Williams moved swiftly to quell the rumours by confirming his services were required for 2008, and then announcing a contract extension to cover 2009 as well. Whether this was a shrewd move to bump up the release fee required of any hard-to-dissuade suitor remains to be seen, but the combination believes that it can go places in the next couple of years.
Indeed, following all the promise of his first two seasons in Formula 1, 2008 was supposed to be the year in which Rosberg finally broke through – and in the opening race in Australia, it looked as if it might just live up to that promise, and launch the inaugural GP2 Series Champion on the path to superstardom that he had been threatening to tread for the entirety of his junior formulae career.
A maiden podium finish in Melbourne was the reward for a superb and mature drive from seventh on the grid, but the young German would be brought back down to earth again with a bang in round two in Malaysia just a week later, as he barely scraped through to the second part of qualifying – and race day would prove to be barely any more encouraging. Suddenly, Nico’s spectacular performance Down Under was little more than a memory, and Williams would never again regain the momentum it had displayed on that spring day in New South Wales.
There would, at least, be another rostrum along the way to highlight the gloom, with a brilliant – and entirely merited – run to the runner-up position behind Renault’s Fernando Alonso in the sport’s first-ever night race in Singapore towards the end of the campaign, which marked Rosberg’s best result in the top flight to-date.
That aside, though, there were no finishes any higher than eighth, despite no fewer than seven top ten qualifying appearances, as the son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg invariably out-performed the limitations of the machinery at his disposal. Third row starting spots in Monaco, Canada and Italy were magnificent cameos, but that none of them resulted in points was somewhat symptomatic of Nico’s season – one during which he gave 110 per cent week-in, week-out, only to be stymied by a car that just wasn’t up to the task, and the team knew it.
Having fought tooth-and-nail to keep hold of their star turn over the previous couple of years, Williams knew that they had to be considerably closer to the pace in 2009. The change in regulations, and the team's recognition of the double diffuser 'loophole' appeared to have given Rosberg an early leg-up but, once again, the season ultimately failed to deliver the desired reward.
Points finishes were regular, but failed to produce a podium, with fourth places in Germany and Hungary the high points. Although Rosberg finished the season seventh overall, it was clear that he remained restless and it was no surprise when overtures from elsewhere led to his departure from Grove.
Rumoured to be a target for champions Brawn GP from the middle of 2009, Rosberg duly made the move to Brackley, where he found himself the first signing for the new Mercedes works team. Any hope that he may be cast as Jenson Button's successor as championship contender, however, was tempered by the subsequent arrival of Michael Schumacher as his team-mate, the German veteran having been lured out of retirement after three years away.
Exactly what 2010 holds for Rosberg now appeared clouded. The move to Mercedes was undoubtedly a step up from Williams, but seemed unlikely to yield the chance he craved to establish himself as a winner, especially when the WO1 proved to be less formidable than its predecessor, a result of Brawn's title challenge going to the wire.
Undaunted, however, Rosberg set about his task with gusto, reeling off two fifths and two thirds in the opening four flyaway rounds. There were no wins but, the odd blip aside, Rosberg proved to be a regular pointscorer - and, crucially, overshadowed Schumacher throughout the season. He eventually finished seventh overall, best of the rest behind the Red Buill, Ferrari and McLaren duos, having added another podium at Silverstone.
Mercedes wound down development of its 2010 car midway through the season, in the hope that renewed focus on 2011 would allow both drivers to take a step forward in competitivity and, perhaps, finally elevate Rosberg to the role of racewinner. It was not to be, as the WO2 proved no more competitive than its predecessor - and, indeed, denied either driver a podium finish in 2011.
Fifth place proved to be the best Rosberg could muster - a feat achieved in the back-to-back races in China and Turkey - before sixths and sevenths became the norm. Despite that, he still out-performed Schumacher for a second straight year, by 89 points to 76, even if the seven-time champion showed a marked upturn in his own performance.
The annual 'silly season' saw Rosberg being linked to Felipe Massa's seat at Ferrari, but any speculation was laid to rest when the youngster inked an extension to his Mercedes deal, putting his faith in Ross Brawn's engineering team to come up with a better car in 2012, when he would again partner Schumacher in the pursuit of Red Bull.
Things looked bright for Mercedes early in the year and, despite a sluggish start in Australia and Malaysia, looked set to get better when Rosberg claimed both his first pole and maiden win at Shanghai International Circuit. He followed them up with second in Monaco, and the W03 appeared to have stolen a march on its rivals with its front wing stalling concept but, almost as soon as the opposition began to consider the new threat, Rosberg and the Three Pointed Star began to fade.
Over the second half of the season, only fifth in Singapore represented a decent return for the German, who then failed to score in the final six races, consigning him to ninth in the final standings with just 93 points.
With Schumacher calling time on his career for a second time, a new challenge awaits Rosberg in 2013, with former karting team-mate Lewis Hamilton joining Mercedes in place of the seven-time champion.