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Rosberg won’t team up with Lewis Hamilton

Leading the charge of a bright crop of twenty-something Formula One drivers, Lewis Hamilton named Nico Rosberg as a possible team-mate next season, replacing Fernando Alonso at McLaren.


Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

However, Rosberg insists he is happy at Williams, where his father Keke won the 1982 World Title. “I’m not going anywhere, at least for another season, and hopefully for longer than that,” he said.

“What Lewis achieved last season has got all us younger drivers thinking. If he can do it, then so can we. It’s a big positive for me. I certainly compare to him. In karting we beat each other all the time and I know I can compete with Lewis.One year he finished up as European champion with me as his team-mate in second and Robert Kubica third. And we all know that Heikki Kovalainen is a top driver, too.

“Of course, it looks like Lewis has a better car than the rest of us at the moment. Next season will still see the McLarens and Ferraris dominate, but I’m hoping the rest of the next tier of teams can push them harder, and that Williams can compete consistently with BMWSauber. We should have beaten Renault in the constructors’ championship last season, so our plan in 2008 is to be up there challenging for third place.

“I’m really excited because I believe F1 will come to be dominated by my generation very soon. I was the first of us to arrive in the sport, and Lewis is now ahead of the rest of us, but I believe there will be a great rivalry in the next few years involving Lewis, myself, Robert and Heikki, with maybe Sebastian Vettel, too, joining us because he did really well when he started racing midway through last season.

“The sport needs these sort of rivalries and I hope people will come to talk of us one day like they used to talk about the great rivalries involving Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.”

The new season promises to be one characterized by new talent coming through, although Hamilton must be favourite to take the title this time.

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The Points Chestnut

I see Bernie Ecclestone has dragged the F1 scoring system into the limelight again, saying that there should be a greater points difference between winning and coming second. It’s a hoary old chestnut that has been tinkered with many times in the past and most changes have made things worse, not better.

Keke

Keke Rosberg, 1982

For once, however, I agree with Bernie – the gap between first and second is a bit close at the moment. But an increase to three points difference rather than two should be sufficient, otherwise we risk having championships decided by the halfway mark in years when one team is dominant. Interest in the rest of the season would just drain away.

Bernie’s other suggestion, that the championship go to the driver with most wins, would be a bad mistake, in my opinion. This puts far too much emphasis on winning instead of consistency. And 1982, a year in which the champion won only a single race, is the perfect answer to such a system. Although it is known as the year nobody wanted the championship, in fact it was the most closely-fought season ever. Incredibly, eleven drivers won races that year, Prost, Pironi, Watson, Lauda and Arnoux managing two victories each, while Rosberg, Patrese, Piquet, Tambay, de Angelis and Alboreto took one apiece.

In effect, Bernie is saying that Keke Rosberg did not deserve to be champion that year. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under Bernie’s proposal, the champion would have been Didier Pironi, on equal race wins and second places with John Watson but with a third place to swing the balance. One of Pironi’s wins was stolen in controversial circumstances from Gilles Villeneuve and was not exactly the kind of driving that deserves a championship.

Most of the other race winners shot themselves in the foot – Prost by squabbling with Arnoux all season instead of making sure that he beat him fair and square, Piquet by agreeing to take on development of Brabham’s new BMW turbo engine, and Lauda by being unable to overcome his under-rated teammate, John Watson. In contrast, Rosberg defeated whoever Frank put in the second Williams car (Reutemann, Andretti and Derek Daly were tried) and concentrated on always being near the front in a car that was not really competitive. He deserved the championship all right and it would have been an injustice to give it to anyone else.

It is too simplistic to say that race wins are all that matter. Consistency must always be an important part of the equation too, as I have argued before. And the strange thing is that, when we do get a year in which the driver with the most wins doesn’t become champion, it is always an exciting season of cut-and-thrust, nail-biting finishes and a championship decided at the last. Just ask John Surtees about that.

So I suggest you give the winner one more point, Bernie – that’ll fix it.

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Keke Rosberg

Now that his son, Nico, is in F1 and showing well, it seems appropriate to remember the great days of Keke Rosberg. For sheer entertainment and guts, Keke was one to watch.

Keke

He was the master in adversity, known for his skills in the wet and a fighter in uncompetitive cars. Right from the beginning, the BRDC International Trophy race in 1978, which he won by speed in a downpour that was catching out all the great names of the time, his car control was amazing. Give him a street circuit and he would muscle his way to the front, regardless of whether his car was any good or not.

For many years it looked as if Keke would never get a competitive drive; he went from Theodore to ATS, Wolf and Fittipaldi, always getting more out of his car than it wanted to give but somehow beneath the notice of the top teams. Even when he secured a drive with Williams in 1982, it was in their last year of Cosworth engines while everyone else had turbos.

But Keke did wonders with the under-powered car, exploiting its reliability and handling to amass a points total that gained him the championship. 1982 is renowned as the year that no-one wanted to be champion, no driver winning more than two races and Keke only one, but this ignores the fact that the Finn was always up with the leaders, ready to take advantage of any problems they might have. He deserved his championship more than many who have cruised to it in superior machinery.

Keke’s awful luck continued after that, however, and he spent three more years with Williams, suffering as they struggled to get some reliability from their new Honda engine. With classic Rosberg timing, he left them just at the moment when they were about to become the cars to beat and joined the McLaren team as they slid from the heights.

One year with them was enough for him and he retired at the end of 1986. He had not fared well against his teammate, Alain Prost, and decided to call it a day. We should not forget that the McLaren was particularly suited to Prost’s smooth driving style, however, and that Keke was best in a car that didn’t mind being sideways occasionally.

Perhaps that is why Keke was never given a drive by the top team of the moment; the call was for smoothness and Keke’s ragged but quick style was as out of place as the man himself. For he was as unique off the track as on it. Unfashionably, he was a smoker and would disappear from the pits for a cigarette at quiet moments. And his priorities were different from those of the hard professionals who were dominating the sport.

There was one race where Keke came into the pits for refueling and a flash fire erupted around him. He leapt from the car but already the fire was out and the mechanics were urging him to get back in. Race forgotten, Keke was protesting, “My mustache! It burned my mustache!”

That was Keke, old school and flamboyant, but as quick as they come. I found a couple of clips on YouTube that illustrate his dashing style and grit:

Rosberg and Gilles, Long Beach 1982

Rosberg and de Angelis, Austria 1982

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Non-Championship Races

Like everyone else, I am desperate to get into the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend and so escape the constant rehashing of rumors of driver changes and politics that has occupied us over the last three weeks. Yet Friday practice is so meaningless that it is hard to get excited about it. So Kimi is fastest with Schumacher (M) and Jenson Button next up – so what? The times have little significance for race pace and the Renaults did not even complete a timed lap.

Instead, my thoughts turned to the mists of history again, back to a time when there were non-Championship races to interest us as well. Some of these were important pointers to future talent and I remember very well when Keke Rosberg first came to the fore, winning the 1978 streaming wet Silverstone International Trophy race in a hopelessly uncompetitive Theodore car. All the greats departed into the weeds on that occasion but the fact remained that somehow that crazy Finn managed to go faster than everyone else and yet keep it on the black stuff too.

But the heyday of the non-Championship race was in the sixties, when most of the teams would stuff a 2.5 liter engine into their cars and go racing in the Tasman series down under. They were great races, a chance for the heroes of the premier stage to enjoy racing without the pressures of F1 and an opportunity for drivers in the far antipodes to match their skills against the best.

Tasman series

For the fans, too, it was something to follow during the off season. Without the Tasman series, the winter break could be very long in the northern hemisphere. A quick look at the results in the series shows a fascinating mix of famous names and local heroes. They were great races.

Nowadays, of course, such extra-curricular shennanigans are unheard of. The teams’ investment in their drivers is far too great to be risked in anything as dangerous as motor sport when no points are on offer. And the cost of transporting everything halfway around the world just could not be justified by even the best results.

Every age mourns the changes that time brings. Many of those changes are for the better but some take us further away from something that was good and valuable. And I think it would do no harm for the occasional non-Championship race to be reinstated, with suitable monetary incentives added to tempt the teams.

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