Before we get into the lessons in life, let’s begin with IWC-sponsored Rosberg’s wrist game. What can we learn there? Well, a few things actually. One, that a Big Pilot is a perfect sartorial match for a racing firesuit. And two, that the new, dressier Aquatimer models pair surprisingly well with a suit. We discovered this firsthand when we caught up with Rosberg a second time at the “Inside the Wave” Gala at SIHH 2014. Note the evidence below…
With the important business out of the way, let’s begin the story proper with Nico and numerology. You see, he recently changed the number on his car to ‘6’ the same one his father, Keke Rosberg used when he rose to Formula-One World Champion in 1982. What’s in a number? More success for Rosberg, who is the current Australian and Monaco Grand Prix champion…
It’s a question he gets asked a lot. But until now he hasn’t been able, or willing, to answer it. How is F1 driver Nico Rosberg a different driver to his dad, ex-Formula One world champion Keke Rosberg? Rosberg thinks it over, leaning forward on a French Renaissance Versace chair in a meeting room of the Blackman Hotel in Melbourne. “We were recently ice rallying in Finland and it was a father-son competition,” Rosberg says. “And my dad had been winding me up for years, saying ‘Ice, that’s my territory, you have no chance there.’
1. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BE FAST: “My girlfriend and her mum were standing on the trackside watching and even though the cars were exactly the same without any markings, it was so easy for them to see which car was me and which was my dad, because he was just going sideways, jumping over everything, and never going straight. And then there was me, much more smooth and controlled. Maybe that’s the best description of how we are different, he drives sideways and I drive straight. There’s more than one way to be fast you know.”
2. SOMETIMES YOUR 10-YEAR-OLD SELF SHOULD BE LISTENED DO: There may be many ways to drive fast, but growing up the son of a Formula One champion in the glamorous conclave of Monaco is surely a great start if you plan to make a career out of it. When he was just 10 years old, Nico remembers being dressed in a pair of matching overalls and seated next to his father on the roof of a car for his farewell lap of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM). “It was one of those moments where I said this is what I want to do too.”
3. BEING A REBEL IS FOLLOWING IN YOUR DAD’S FOOTSTEPS…THEN BREAKING OUT OF THEM: Nico Rosberg has certainly led a charmed life, but privilege has its down side; the shadow his father cast in car racing was the size of Finland. For the half German, half Finn, the name of Thomas Sabo’s latest range, ‘Rebel at Heart’, sums up what it’s like to have a famous dad whose profession you bravely decide to follow. For Rosberg, being a rebel is having the guts to do what his father did, but to “do it in my own way,” in a sport that has changed radically. “Back then there was just one button on the wheel,” Rosberg says, later joking that it was for a cigarette lighter. “Now it’s so much more technological. There are 34 buttons or more, it’s like a space ship control center. It’s incredible.”
4. WE’RE NOT ‘REAL MEN’ ANYMORE (LOL): The car’s not the only thing that’s changed since 1982 when Keke was king. So has the overall concept of being a man. Back then, and Nico can’t help but break a big smile as he assumes his dad’s voice, “’They were real men,” Rosberg says and a quick YouTube search for Keke’s highlights shows how. In one clip there’s footage of pit crew blowing out a fire that had erupted in arch rival Nelson Piquet’s engine like it was a birthday candle. “Now he says we’re like wimps. He used to smoke his cigarettes, put it out on the grid then jump in the car and off he went.”
5. BEWARE OF SERIOUS MEN WITH BABYFACES…: Rosberg smiles frequently, but his default expression as he waits for each question is with eyes narrowed to attention. By his own admission he values precision above all else in his own life and in the people around him. He later commends me for being well researched. Just half an hour with Nico and you’re left with one very strong impression of the man: he is serious. He has the energy, and youthful appearance, of an excited child when the conversation turns to table tennis for example – his favourite pasttime to sharpen his reflexes off the track – but on the topic of 2014, his eyes sharpen again to laser points. You might call it a ‘game-face’, but Formula One is no longer a game for him. If a breakthrough season with multiple podium finishes is ever going to happen, it is now, this year. He had his first win last year at the Chinese Grand Prix in 2012, his Mercedes AMG Petronas car has closed the gap on their opponents in terms of its performance and his new teammate is an old go-karting mate, the “very talented” Lewis Hamilton.
6. KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE AND YOUR TEAM-MATES EVEN CLOSER: “When Lewis [Lewis Hamilton] and I were 14 we were dominating, always finishing in the top in the go-karts world championships,” Rosberg says of Hamilton. “And we used to say to each other ‘imagine one day we could be teammates in one of the best F1 teams’. And now it’s come true, 13 years later. We still get on well but at the same time we’re massively competitive, always have been and always will be.” Rosberg is at the zenith of his career at 28 and he’s also at the peak of physical and mental fitness, thanks to a steely regime, that only allows for ice cream “after a race”.
7. ACTUALLY DRIVING A FORMULA 1 CAR SOUNDS, UM, INTENSE: “The whole race weekend is demanding, not only mentally but physically,” Rosberg says. “People at home might wonder how turning a steering wheel can be so hard but it really is tough because you have G-forces and the seatbelt is so tight that you can’t breathe properly. When you go into the corners you don’t breathe at all, you have to remain completely tense. Then you have the fuel tank right behind your back, which is 60 or 70 degrees. It’s intense.”
8. HOW TO GET ROSBERG STYLE: Rosberg places “a lot of importance on his appearance”, but keeping him just as hot off the track is his “girlfriend’s department”. Describing a very familiar scene for the writer, he declares that he “hates shopping” and then paints a picture of how it usually goes: “She will walk into a shop and within 15 seconds she goes pick, pick, pick, and they’re all perfect. For me it would have taken an hour and a half.” In terms of what sums up style to Rosberg, he won’t be drawn on the topic. Any tips? None at all. What about that old chestnut, to wear your chosen rig with confidence? Rosberg doesn’t truck with that: apologies to Jay-Z, among others, but “If you button your shirt up all the way to the top, even confidence won’t get you by.”
9. (F1 DRIVERS HAVE NO STYLE, SORRY): When it comes to F1 drivers, he says that generally the bar for style is as low as their cars’ clearance from the tarmac. They’re not a fashionable bunch as a rule and they generally don’t care, either. “They are drivers,” Rosberg says. “They focus on driving. They care about winning.”
* Parts of this article first appeared in GQ Australia