Features - Interview


Ten years on: Keke Rosberg


Keke Rosberg won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1982. He was 34. At the end of 1986 he retired and today looks after the careers of two young Finnish hopefuls: Mika Hakkinen and JJ Lehto.

Keke Rosberg won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1982. He was 34. At the end of 1986 he retired and today looks after the careers of two young Finnish hopefuls: Mika Hakkinen and JJ Lehto.

Rosberg has never been one to shy away from saying what he thinks. So we asked him about how he thinks things have changed in F1.

"Everybody gets so uptight saying: "Oh it's not like it used to be"," says Keke, "but it's no bloody different. There has always been politics. There have always been dramas, contracts here and there. I don't see it has changed that much, we just forget. Somebody asked me the other day has any driver in the past ever tried to block another driver from coming to a team - like Prost has with Senna at Williams - and I said: "Yes. Me!" In 1985 I was at Williams and I said to Frank: "If Mansell comes, I leave." And Frank said: "No you won't, you've got a contract already".

"In those days you wouldn't have even thought of putting something silly like that into your contract. It was political, but now it has got more professional basically - in all areas. The whole of F1. Winning has always meant everything in F1 and losing has always been a disaster, so nothing has changed in that area. The drivers aren't trying to win so that he will earn a few more bob. They are trying to win because that is why they are racing drivers. Believe me, they aren't thinking money when they are on the track."

But many F1 drivers have to take money to buy their drives?

"It always has been like that," Keke says. "When we came into F1 at the end of the Seventies it was the same. It was nearly impossible to get into F1 without money. Gilles Villeneuve came through Marlboro, I was lucky, I came with no money, but most of my generation never got here, they didn't have any money so they got stuck in Formula 2. In fact if you remember I was out of F1 because I had no money and I had gone off to race for Newman in America - because I wanted to get paid. I only got back in because James Hunt retired and Peter Warr got me in at Wolf."

The atmosphere of F1 has changed a bit since the early 1980s, hasn't it?

"The only thing that has changed the ambience is the amount of work being done. Everybody is working their arses off: the drivers are testing, working, testing. They are a little more like athletes, getting more out of their bodies and working a lot harder. They don't have time for a laugh any longer. It is the same thing with the team managements and the mechanics. It's the same thing for everybody. That's where I see the biggest changes in the possibilities which have been exploited to be more competitive. The standards have gone up."

And what about the standard of the racing. Is it any better?

"I don't know," smiles Keke. "Look at what Michael Schumacher did in Monza. He pitted on the first lap, then raced through the whole field to finish third. That was an heroic effort, but did we see it on television? No. I would have loved to see all the manoeuvres he had to do to get there. That was a bit of a shame. Maybe we are a bit too TV-orientated. In the early days you used to go into a grandstand and see what happened. Nobody bothers anymore. The TV is the power of the sport. But it is an impressive TV show, isn't it? Very, very, good."

He pauses for a moment.

"'Is the racing better or worse? Hmm. When you look back how many tight races did we have? There was Jarama when Gilles Villeneuve was leading the pack with a slow car and everybody piled behind him. I dunno. Is it any worse? Is it any better? It's very exciting and the cars are very quick. The technical development has been phenomenal.

"The problem is that if you haven't got the right things, you can't do anything. It's the same as in F3, where you need the right chassis, and in F3000 where you have to have the right engine. It's more of a problem in F1 because the development is faster."

What about the technical development, does Keke think it has made the drivers less important?

"It's difficult for me to say," he says. "I haven't driven a modern car. I would have thought no matter how much electronics you have, you still need interpretation so you still need the man in the car. If someone considers a driver to be worth so much, then so be it."

The modern stars seem to be sticking around longer in the sport than they used to.

"It's just a little bit more difficult to retire because there are more noughts on the cheque," laughs Keke. "Careers have been extended artificially. Maybe the reason for that is not that there isn't the talent around, maybe its because of those cheques. But, you know, F1 needs to keep the names, because it is always damaging when the names retire."

What about specific drivers? How does Keke rate his old team mate the new World Champion Nigel Mansell?

"He's a name. Someone who has been winning since 1985 - for seven years - has to be a name. He's brought the biggest following to Grand Prix racing that it has ever had. Now we have the sort of football fan who has a completely different mentality to the normal fans. It's something we have never seen. You have to ask the question: Are they there for the racing? The answer is no. They don't even understand the racing, but it is good because it gives F1 a wider following. It is good as long as it stays on the positive side. The negatives we have never seen in F1 and we don't want them either. Football is suffering from hooliganism. Motor racing has been very fortunate that we have never had that. If we had had the problems football has, there would be no motor racing."

But what about Nigel the driver?

"He's done a fabulous job, hasn't he? He made a big mistake in practice in Brazil, when he tried to pass Senna and crashed - he could have broken his hand or something. Then in Canada he made that mistake in the race. That apart he's been good."

How does he rate against Senna and Prost?

"I did a top 10 for someone recently and I put three drivers equal at number one: Senna, Prost and Mansell. I have no reason to change that opinion. They all have their faults, and they all have their good sides."

What about other drivers?

"It is a very strange situation," says Keke. "You don't really have a strong experienced midfield any more. What do we have? Riccardo Patrese, Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto and Thierry Boutsen. Patrese and Alboreto must be on their way out sooner or later. Michele is doing a fabulous job. He's a pro and it's good to see him doing so well. But what is the future there? Then you've got the guys who have come up the ladder slowly because they have been blocked by the superstars - there's a whole bunch of them like Pierluigi Martini and Martin Brundle."

"Martin has done good races this year, but then he's been around for too long. He's had too many chances. I just wonder if one more is going to fall his way. You never know.

"Then you have the new generation. Now is the time for them to take control. There's Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Johnny Herbert."

What about Jean Alesi?

"I like the guy as a person," says Keke, "but I don't like the way he races. I don't know why. I don't see him being successful. There was a little glimmer in the wet in Barcelona but I don't see him being able to create a package - and a career - out of that. He's very spectacular, but that's it."

"I am sure Erik Comas is a good guy but he's had two huge accidents lately and an accident like that doesn't pass without leaving something behind. Look at Gerhard. I don't think we've seen the same Gerhard since that shunt at Imola. I think the flair went out in that big bang. It is scary from the outside, but can you imagine being in there?

"Christian Fittipaldi is going to make it, isn't he? He's got the looks, he's smart, he's got the right name and he's got talent. At the moment he being sold below his value because I don't think he was fully fit after his neck injury, because his performance dropped straight off. Or did he scare himself? It could well be. He broke his neck and I should think that gets your attention.

"Karl Wendlinger has had some phenomenal qualifying performances but then you could say he's looking for the big accident as well. His starts are something else. We've seen the raw talent but we have to see if that is balanced with refined racing mileage. He seems to have a lot of potential."

What about the Rosberg boys, Hakkinen and Lehto? Can Keke be objective about them?

"I asked myself all these questions before we started working together and if I decided then that the blokes are good, I'm not going to change my opinion now. I might as well stop working with them if I don't believe the talent is there. I don't think there is any doubt about Mika. Not everyone would agree with me about JJ but, for instance, I feel his race in Spa to seventh place was magic. It was one of the best drives in that race - even though Schumacher won. I really believe that JJ has a lot to give to the sport but he's been forgotten a bit in the Scuderia Italia disaster this year.

"I believe very strongly in both Mika and JJ. The talent is there. I think that good management will make their way a little bit easier. I still believe that to see two Finns succeeding will be a miracle. I always say to them: "Only one of you guys will make it because those are the odds". I have worked with both of them for a long time, basically I have taken them abroad. I feel my responsibility extends far beyond just driving, I feel responsible for bringing up young men. I have 20 more years experience of life so I really try to be a consultant and guide in all things. I think they should learn how to go about it, learn how to keep things under control. I made mistakes, like everybody else, but I've been involved for so long now that I think I have a fairly good idea how to do it."