With his Formula One squad pegged as the team to beat this season, Nico Rosberg goes into the 2014 poised to join an exclusive group of racing offspring.
A good start would put Mercedes’ Rosberg in a position to become only the second son of a F1 title winner to take that honour too. The 28-year-old is son of 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg.
While there have been several family success stories in racing, the only one to produce two world champions is the Hill clan, which saw the legendary Graham take the 1962 and 1968 F1 titles and son Damon hoist the crown in 1996.
“I don’t think about that really,” Rosberg said bluntly when asked about the possibility of becoming one of the few who earn father-son titles.
His maiden victory in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix made the Rosberg family only the third father-son duo to take a chequered flag in F1, joining Hill and 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve and his dad, Gilles. Championship or not, Nico and Keke are already one of the more successful father-son racers in F1.
Neither Graham Hill nor Gilles Villeneuve ever saw their sons race. Hill died in a plane crash in 1975 when Damon was 15, while Jacques was 11 when his father was killed in a qualifying accident for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. The jovial Keke regularly attends races, but he wasn’t in China for his son’s first F1 win.
An F1 car certainly isn’t a surprising landing place for Rosberg, who grew up surrounded by the sport. The younger Rosberg was born in Germany in 1985, a year before his Finnish father retired from racing.
Like several other F1 drivers who followed in their father’s footsteps, his upbringing and the money to fund a budding career helped him on the road to F1. Reaching F1 these days requires wads of cash and many simply fall away when the money dries up.
“In a way racing is probably similar in all sports – you always need support,” said Rosberg. “But racing is one of the toughest of all because of the budgets you need to have to make it through the ranks is just incredible.”
So far in his F1 career, Rosberg has three wins and four poles in 147 starts, although half of his races were with an underperforming Williams team. When he moved to the Mercedes AMG F1 Team in 2010, Rosberg quickly took the mantle of team leader, even though he shared the Silver Arrows’ stable with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
In fact, when the two were paired at Mercedes, Rosberg became the first teammate to outscore Schumacher consistently in the older German’s 18 F1 seasons, scoring more poles, wins, and points than the sport’s most successful competitor in their three years together. Schumacher initially retired from the sport after the 2006 season, but returned to F1 with Mercedes in 2010 and raced three more years. He retired for good at the end of the 2012 season.
Rosberg’s teammate since last year is 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who outscored the German by 18 points in 2013. Hamilton also took five poles to Rosberg’s three, but the German won twice while the Briton managed only one victory.
When the second test session prior to the 2014 season ends in Bahrain next week, it should become clear whether Rosberg’s Mercedes will give him a shot at becoming the sport’s second father-son world champions.
By the Numbers
When it comes to wins and titles, the Hill family comes out on top. Graham Hill took two tiles, 14 poles and 13 grand prix wins in 18 F1 seasons beginning in 1958. Combined with son Damon’s numbers (one title, 22 wins and 20 poles) the family has an impressive total of three titles, 36 wins and 33 poles.
Considered the greatest driver Canada has ever produced, Gilles Villeneuve won six times and took two poles between 1977 and 1982 but never won a championship. Title glory was left to son Jacques who scored Canada’s sole F1 championship in 1997. Add the younger Villeneuve’s numbers to his dad’s results gives them a total of one title, 19 wins and 13 poles.
Keke Rosberg started 114 grands prix between 1978 and 1985, taking five wins, five poles and one world title, giving their family a total of one title, eight wins and nine poles.
David Brabham, son of three time world champion Jack, and 1978 world champion Mario Andretti’s son Michael also tried their hands at F1 but neither was able to find the winner’s circle.
While father-son drivers winning in F1 remain quite rare, only one pair of brothers has ever taken a grand prix chequered flag. The Schumachers also easily enjoyed the most sibling success in the history of the sport, although mostly on the strength of seven-time world champion Michael’s astounding statistics.
The elder brother of Ralf Schumacher set records in pretty much every category that matters in F1, with seven titles, 91 wins and 68 poles. Although Ralf Schumacher never won a championship, he did put up respectable numbers in his 11 seasons beginning in 1997, scoring six wins and six poles. That puts the Schumacher family numbers at 97 wins, 74 poles and seven world championships.
If one of Michael’s two children manage to make it to F1, they will instantly become the most successful father-child combination ever.
When it comes to family success in top levels of racing, none compares to the three generations of Andretti racers.
Mario is arguably the most versatile and successful driver in history. He is the only person to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring, an IndyCar title, and an F1 world championship. Although Michael Andretti failed to make a mark in F1, there’s no denying that he was a force to be reckoned with in IndyCar.
Combined with his father Mario’s successes in North American open wheel racing, the father-son team is easily the most successful one in top level professional motor racing. Mario won four IndyCar titles, and is second only to A.J. Foyt in career wins at 52. He also took a remarkable 67 poles in his 24 IndyCar seasons. Michael only managed to win one championship but took 42 wins and 32 poles in his 19 seasons. Michael’s son Marco hasn’t found the kind of success enjoyed by his elders, but still has two wins and four poles to his credit.
The Last Word
The last F1 driver who was also the son of a former champion was Nelson Piquet Jr., who raced for Renault for a season and a half before being dropped by the team. He then came embroiled in the “Crashgate” scandal that exploded in September 2009.
Piquet admitted to the sport’s governing body that he had crashed deliberately in a tight corner during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and caused a safety car period to ensure the race strategy used by his teammate Fernando Alonso would deliver a win. He also said the crash was ordered by his team. In the end, both Renault team boss Briatore and race engineer Pat Symonds left the team in the wake of the scandal, and Piquet’s F1 career was done.
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