Still hungry for more wins
“The real key to the whole thing,” said Keke Rosberg thoughtfully, “is that I only won a single Grand Prix on my way to the World Championship. Most people have already won Grands Prix prior to their championship year and probably notch up three or four during the course of their title-winning season. But for me it was very different. I only won my very first Grand Prix towards the end of the season in which I won the title. So if anybody thought that I was going to ease off, like people have in the past, simply because I was World Champion, then they were very wrong. I’m still hungry for race wins. I want to score more of them…”
In a nutshell, that sums up Keke Rosberg’s approach to the business of Grand Prix motor racing. When we look back over the 1983 season and assess the drivers, there are several factors that must be taken into account — factors which affect judgement of drivers such as Nelson Piquet just as much as Keke Rosberg. It’s pretty widely agreed that the most outstanding driver car combination of ’83 was Piquet and the striking Gordon Murray-designed Brabham-BMW BT52B. But in accepting that assessment, it’s crucially important to remember that several established leading lights, such as Rosberg, Niki Lauda and John Watson, were without turbocharged cars for most of the season. From that point of view we must look forward to 1984 with a keen sense of anticipation: we’ll be finally able to reach a conclusion as to precisely who is the best of the bunch.
In terms of application and effort, dogged persistence and sheer enthusiasm, Keke Rosberg emerges at the top of the ’83 pile. For much of the first part of the season his Cosworth-engined Williams FW08C fought tenaciously against the turbo tide, contesting the lead in Brazil and Long Beach and winning at Monaco in splendid style after he and his team made the calculated gamble to start urn slick rubber on a still-damp track — gambling that further rain would hold off. They won their gamble and the net result was probably the single most impressive win, from the point of view of driving prowess, seen all season.
Of course, it must be remembered that Frank Williams’s decision to stick with Cosworth power for one year longer than most of his rivals stemmed from two factors and assumptions. Though he would be the last to admit it, it irritated him considerably that Mansour Ojjeh’s TAG organisation, one of the Williams team’s major sponsors for several seasons, decided to throw in its lot backing a Porsche-built V6 turbocharged engine for McLaren International. Frank made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t prepared to stand in a queue behind Ron Dennis for the supply of this particular engine, so in order to make his own exclusive engine supply arrangements. Williams had to gamble another season with the DFV. He also felt that the reduction in the Formula One minimum weight limit to 540 kg might just enable his team to squeeze one more year’s competitive motoring out of the FW08 design: unfortunately, although the car ran close to the front for several races in the first half of the season, mans of the turbo teams managed to build their cars uncomfortably close to that minimum weight limit with the result that even the most agile normally aspirated car was eclipsed.
“For six months it was fantastic,” grim Rosberg reflectively, “and for six months, prior to having the Honda turbo of course, it was a disaster. I was personally a bit disappointed when Frank told me that were going to have to run through another year with the Cosworth, but then he pays me to drive and if he tells me that he’s going to run 16-wheelers, then I’ll drive them the best that I can. No, I suppose I didn’t think that the Cosworth could hang onus long as it did. I think we got more, much more, from the first six months of the year that we ever expected or thought possible. You must remember that if I hadn’t been disqualified in Brazil I would have been leading the Championship points table right through until mid-season. Who would have thought that could have been possible? But then, of course, we did a complete belly landing…”
Watching the almost brutal fashion in which Rosberg “wrung the neck” of his FW08C during some of the ’83 World Championship rounds, desperately cooing his car in an effort to hang onto some of the leading turbocharged cars, there were worries from some quarters that the Finn might find difficulty adapting to the technique required by a heavier, more powerful 1½-litre forced induction machine. “I think that if Keke expects to drive a turbo like he drives the Cosworth car, he’ll find a surprise coming his way, said one distinguished driver of a turbocharged GP car following the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, “there are other aspects to consider: you’ve got to be far more careful with your tyres and your brakes, for example.”
Rosberg’s response to such words of caution was probably best illustrated by the fact that he managed to bring the debutant Williams-Honda FW09 home fifth in the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, final race of the season. Unquestionably, he thinks that the idea that one changes one’s style to adapt to a turbo is not really correct.
“I’m not changing my style,” he grins, “you don’t think about these things. If you have to make adjustments, compensations, because of a car’s different characteristics, then you don’t actually think about them, you do it. Intuitively. Look at Nigel Mansell — competitive in his first turbo race. And Gilles Villeneuve didn’t change his style simply because he had a turbo, did he? I suppose it’s fair to say that you automatically adapt your driving style every day of your life, because every day the car behaves a bit differently, has different problems. You might have to adapt for things like turbo lag, but these are not conscious changes, you just do it.”
By the middle of the 1983 season there were rumours that Rosberg was considering a move from Williams, possibly to Ferrari. But at the end of the day he finally stayed with the team that gave him his break into the F1 big-time. Most commentators and observers feel this is just as well: Keke is clearly suited to his current team. If he had gone to Ferrari, his overalls would have been plain red with Marlboro cigarette and Agip fuel patches on them, and nothing more. Rosberg would thereby have been deprived of his great passion for business dealing, and negotiating additional personal sponsors; one only has to look at his present overalls and helmet to understand that he gets almost as much pleasure from this aspect of motor racing as he does from the pure driving side. There is an element of the street-wise, haggling deal-maker in Rosberg, an appealing facet of his character certainly, but not the sort of trait guaranteed to endear him to “old guard” purists like the 85-year old Commendatore. Rosberg is not a Ferrari-style driver.
To his considerable delight, Keke finalised his 1984 commitment to Williams quite early on in the end of season driver scramble. “I’m really happy it’s all settled and I can sit back and watch everybody else scurrying round,” he said at Kyalami, “I’m happy with my deal and I hope Frank is too. There are a lot of quite good drivers around who’ll be hard pushed getting a decent seat for 1984, and some who obviously won’t. It’s hard for the newcomers on the way up, and it’s only going to get harder as I see the situation. I’ve heard a number of young guys say they’ll only consider a move into F1 if they come in with a decent team. Well, they should forget that attitude here and now. We’ve got a situation now where anybody who’s hoping to make it in F1 should grab their chance here and now, like I did. Opportunities don’t come every day to get into F1 and it’s getting more competitive than ever. In 1978 Eddie Cheever did a couple of races with the Theodore and packed it in: that was my good fortune and I accepted the offer of the drive immediately. I won the International Trophy with the car and that didn’t do me any harm at all. Motor racing is all about making opportunities and taking the chances that are offered to you.”
Rosberg first handled a Williams F1 car during a test session at Paul Ricard towards the end of the 1981 season. Alan Jones had recently announced his retirement and Frank was looking for a likely lad to replace him alongside Carlos Reutemann for 1982. Rosberg was available, one of the people who’d looked promising, and so he was invited down to try the FW07C. Keke took full advantage of his opportunity, never put a foot wrong and, as we now know, never looked back from that moment.
Keke Rosberg has never had any doubts where his own ability was taking him. He’s confident to the point where some people would interpret him as being “cocky”, but when you talk to him in depth you realise that he has a sensible and rational approach to what he’s doing— coupled with an astute financial sense of his own value!
Rosberg enjoys his jet-set life, lavishing a fair deal of money on nice houses, nice ears and the inevitable aeroplane. “I feel I owe it to myself to make the money I’m earning now work for me,” he admits, “I want to have a business career which extends beyond my time as an active racing driver, like Jackie Stewart. But that means organising for it now, not waiting until I stop racing. It must be awful to retire from racing and then be bored, either because you know you retired too early or you’ve got nothing organised to take up your time once you’ve stopped. I don’t have any thoughts of retirement in my mind at the moment — but I want to make sure that neither of those situations arises in my case when the time comes for me to stop.” — A.H.