Ten years on from Jacques Villeneuve, Nico Rosberg is entering the F1 scene at Williams
There’s a neat symmetry to Nico Rosberg’s arrival in grand prix racing this season. Not only is the 20-year-old driving for the same Williams team that gave his dad Keke his big break back in 1982, he’s also coming into F1 exactly 10 years after another famous son — Jacques Villeneuve — made his debut with the same team.
Like Jacques, Nico has made it on the back of solid championship success. In his case it was in GP2 rather than in Indycars, but both men had good enough CVs to suggest that they were worthy of a Formula One seat. Still, the name helped to distinguish them from others with similar records.
It’s inevitable that such apparent nepotism stirs a little envy in those who feel they coulda been contenders, but does it really matter? You might have a head start, but unless you’ve inherited some genuine talent along with the name you will only get so far. The world is not exactly stirred by Sean Lennon’s latest musical adventures…
It’s certainly not fair to criticise Jacques, who had to make it largely on his own wits. Of course the surname opened doors in the early days, but Gilles wasn’t around to use old contacts, pay the bills or generally make things happen. It was much the same story with Damon Hill.
In contrast Rosberg Snr has been a constant presence in his son’s career, and that included having Nico in the family team up to F3 level. Keke is at least careful not to get too close to the action on race weekends, aware that the old man is not always the best guy to have around. After all, parents rarely make good driving instructors.
Like Nico, Nelson Angelo Piquet has been supported all the way by a passionate dad. He still drives for the family team, although some feel he might have done better striking out on his own. After a disappointing first year in GP2, this really is a make-or-break season for him.
Rosberg and Piquet are just two of a torrent of World Champions’ sprogs to hit the scene in recent years. Tomas Scheckter has done well in the IRL, but such as Mathias Lauda, Nicolas Prost, Christian Jones and Derek (son of Phil) Hill have not really shown the sort of special qualities that made their dads World Champions. Teenager Henry Surtees is only just starting out, so time will tell.
The same goes for Greg and Leo Mansell. Both began their karting careers late, but Nigel is now sparing no effort in pushing them along in Formula BMW. Are they really any good? The world awaits. In typical Mansell style, Dad has at least ensured that the odds favour him more than his former F1 sparring partners. He has an heir and a spare!