Matters of moment, October 2017

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Nico Rosberg has a mischievous side. I don’t think it came across when he raced – but then how much of a driver’s personality do we really see in this age of media control and message management? Now retired, Nico seems comfortable enough to joke and prod, even when the tape is rolling – as you can see in the video podcast I hosted with him at Goodwood.

I first met Rosberg on a chilly December day in 2003, at the Jerez circuit in Spain. He was there testing the Williams FW25 with another son of a Formula 1 champ – Nelson Piquet Jr. Both dads were there, and the PR hosting me was none other than Claire Williams. Didn’t she do well? It’s a day indelibly burned into my memory. And I have to admit that it was hard to prevent the fan from bubbling to the surface that day, when my primary task was to be a journalist.

Then, as it often does now, Williams was evaluating potential talent. As Piquet Jr prepared to take the wheel, Sam Michael, then chief operations engineer, told me they had been working with the drivers ahead of the test to ensure they had the relevant ‘maturity’. Understandable when you consider they were both 18 and about to be unleashed in a car from one of the fastest of all eras…

Nico and I reminisced about this at Goodwood, and he remembered the importance of the test. “It was a real shoot-out,” he explained, “with a test contract on offer.” This sparked a memory – and I checked my notes. Sure enough Nelson Piquet (Sr) told me on the day that the drivers had a shot at a two-year test deal and a five-year race contract. The latter was particularly tantalising, because Williams was about to lose Juan Pablo Montoya to McLaren for 2005. Piquet Sr had been quite vocal in speaking to the press about his son’s potential race contract, whereas Keke was keeping a much lower profile.

On that day in Jerez, I had to chase Keke around like some demented fan – which wasn’t that far from the truth. At one point, desperate to get a comment while his son was out on track, I found him on the roof of the pit-complex, smoking a cigar and calmly watching Nico screaming around the track. I vividly remember asking how he felt about his son driving a car of such extreme performance. Keke was relaxed. He said Nico was ready, and the manner in which he conducted himself on track certainly confirmed as much.

Keke went on to say that Nico had never been anything other than mature and relaxed in his approach to driving; he would even let his son drive his 427 Cobra up in the hills above Monaco – with no concerns about Nico’s ability to handle this famously potent sports car. Sure enough, shortly afterwards, Nico was announced as an official Williams test driver and in 2006 became a full-works race driver.

Mark Hughes beautifully summarises Nico’s career, his mental approach and his character in his feature. It’s taken a while to pin Rosberg down. However, he was happy to spend a couple of hours with Motor Sport – and indeed revealed that he subscribes to the magazine. He seems utterly at peace, and is firm that racing does not feature in his future plans.

Nevertheless, the inner racer is a persistent beast and few drivers have managed to contain it long-term. It will be fascinating to see if Nico finds the stimulation and satisfies his competitive instinct away from the unique and addictive cocktail that is F1.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED already that the October 2017 issue of Motor Sport has a fresh look, new features and new regulars. At 93 years young, Motor Sport magazine is not a title that can (or should) suddenly change direction, so we have to tread carefully and put a lot of thought and effort into it. However, it’s necessary to reflect the shifting and evolving nature of motor racing, the automobile and the world of classic cars and historic racing. There’s never been more variety and more interest in these subjects, and it’s our aim to explore them a little further – and bring you more depth in coverage and analysis.

We also hope that we can put you behind the wheel of some of the great racing cars – and we certainly have some crackers lined up for the coming months. The cover story this month is a prime example – driving Bruce’s own Can-Am M6A/1 McLaren was an extraordinary privilege, one that reflects the generosity of the owner and the stature of Motor Sport magazine. And I say this not in a self-aggrandising manner – for I’m a ‘newbie’ with just eight months under my belt as editor and this title has nearly a century of reputation to consider – but more to illustrate that Motor Sport is and remains a constant in the swirling, multi-faceted world of automobile racing.

In short, our values remain – and I hope you notice that we’ve been able to do this without shrinking or substituting any of the ‘favourites’. We have narrowed the overall width of the magazine a few millimetres – a rather unavoidable but necessary change that’s related to reducing paper wastage as it’s cut from the roll – but our art editor, Damon Cogman, has done a great job in compensating for this and ensuring that images are used full-width where relevant and possible.

Further, while you will notice new editorial regulars such as ‘Garagista’ and ‘SpeedShop’, the columnists retain their roles, and the topical analysis at the beginning of the magazine and the features section remain the same length.

We hope that our love of motor racing shines through with this refresh, albeit tempered with the requirement to identify weaknesses in the sport when necessary.

OH, I NEARLY FORGOT. When I joined Motor SPORT AT THE beginning of the year I was regularly asked about the cover and whether the format would change. This was often accompanied with the comment ‘don’t ever go back to that awful red cover!’ I’ll admit that we took a close look at its design and even experimented with a few far more challenging versions than the one you see here. Perhaps these more daring cover formats will find their place as we evolve, but for now I hope you enjoy the extra ‘green’ on the cover, the clearer main image and the gloss and matt effect…

As ever, we thank you for being part of the motor racing story and please feel free to contact me at [email protected] (stands back…).