It's a scene that happens hundreds of thousands of times a day around the world: two people meet in a lift, greet each other and begin to chat about work and life. The twist in this particular story, though, is that the elevator is in Monte-Carlo; the two men are resident in the same apartment building, separated by little more than a few floors; and both have written their own chapters in the very exclusive grand prix racing history of Mercedes-Benz.
Mika Hakkinen was the first Mercedes-Benz world champion of the modern era, and a two-time title winner in 1998 and 1999 with McLaren
Mercedes; Nico Rosberg
is the first man to win a Grand Prix at the wheel of a Silver Arrow since the great Juan Manuel Fangio, in the third season of the return of the Silver Arrows. On the eve of the race around their home streets, the two men met to discuss their experiences as part of one of the most spectacular events in world sport.
The histories of Mika Hakkinen and Nico Rosberg
have been intertwined for more than twenty years, when Nico was just a young boy and Mika worked with Keke Rosberg, who led his management team.
"I don't remember when we first met - maybe Mika does!" laughs Nico when the question comes.
"Well, I started working with Keke at the end of 1987," recalls Mika. "I think the first time we met must have been down here in Monaco in the early '90s. I was visiting Keke, and you were playing in your room! It's possible I was his first sponsor in karting - do you remember that?"
"Yeah, sure," laughs Nico. "It was 1997, I was 11 years old and competing in the French go-karting championship. I had a poster in my room with all my sponsors on there, and one of them was you!"
"My son is eleven now," says Mika, picking up the thread. "I'm sure I did a contract with Keke that one day, when Nico will win races and be world champion, he has to start supporting my son Hugo!"
If the early stages of Nico's career were supported by Mika - who today himself is a partner with Didier Coton in Aces Management and has, among others, young Finn Valtteri Bottas under his wing - the parallels between the two have only grown stronger as time has passed. Both Mika and Nico had to wait until their seventh F1 season before climbing the top step of the podium - Mika after 96 races, at the 1997 European Grand Prix in Jerez; Nico in his 111th start, at this year's Chinese Grand Prix. And both in their third seasons driving Mercedes-Benz-powered cars.
"Your first victory in F1 always feels like it is a long time coming," explains Mika. "And especially in my case - but when it arrives, the feeling is just amazing. But problems are part of life, and winning or losing, they don't disappear. You need to keep understanding the cause of disappointments and where you and the team can improve. There is no point having your face upside down for one week - it's better to pick up the phone, travel, see people, talk, organise yourself. Then you know that at the next event, you will be stronger - and if not the car, then yourself; you can always be better. Because the day when you have a car to win, you have to be ready. If not, it's too late. I knew that one day I was going to win, it just took a long time."
"I had exactly the same feeling - Ross, all the guys, kept telling me that the win would come, I just needed to stay patient and take my opportunity," agrees Nico. "Of course, you get frustrated if it doesn't go perfectly, but time takes that away and you keep going, follow the development, communicate constantly with the team."