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Monday 17 March 2014

Mercedes's Formula One title hopeful Nico Rosberg admits Lewis Hamilton rivalry is increasingly 'heated' - Telegraph

Nico Rosberg is recalling his earliest memory of Formula One. “I was sleeping on the roof of a boat in the harbour in Monte Carlo – it must have been 1988,” he says. “I remember being woken up on a Sunday morning by the sound of Ayrton Senna roaring out of the tunnel as they were doing warm-up. I sat up and saw the red and white McLaren, with his yellow helmet. I can still clearly see it – as a little child it was like camping outside.”
Some camping trip. But he was not any old F1 fan. The man who has a first drivers’ title in his sights this season has the sport woven into his DNA.
The 28-year-old German is the son of the 1982 world champion, Keke Rosberg, and had the pleasure of growing up in Monaco and flying around the world following the fortunes of the ‘flying Finn’ Mika Hakkinen, who his father managed. “I followed his races very intensely always, with my dad. They were always great times.”
Fast-forward to 2014, and the low-pitched grumble of turbo-powered engines will be heard in Formula One for the first season since Rosberg was woken by Senna tearing through Monaco’s streets in 1988. It is a season of immense change in which the Mercedes driver is considered one of the favourites, as he seeks to become the second son of a world champion to win the crown himself, after Damon Hill. In some quarters, he is favoured even more highly than his team-mate, and long-time friend,Lewis Hamilton.
The dynamic with Hamilton will be one of the season’s most fascinating sub-plots – a modern spin on the rivalry between Ayrton Senna, whose instinctive brilliance is echoed in the skilled, occasionally reckless Hamilton, and his McLaren team-mate, the ‘Professor’ Alain Prost, an ice-cool technician to whom Rosberg is a natural heir.
Rosberg and his girlfriend Vivian Sibold at the Thomas Sabo Rebel

"It was the same when we were young - it was so competitive between us. In the amount of pizzas we could eat, the wrestling matches in the hotel rooms, whatever it was. It’s the same today."

Prost and Senna’s relationship at McLaren was characterised by bitter dislike at McLaren. Rosberg and Hamilton are not in that category – indeed they still maintain a large degree of the friendship first kindled when they were team-mates in karting, aged 14. But Rosberg is honest enough to acknowledge a competitive edge that occasionally spills over.
“We’re not best friends, and we’re probably never going to be best friends just because it’s difficult in this industry, especially when you’re team-mates, fighting for wins. We get in well, we have a laugh, neutral, very competitive. We even have some heated exchanges, but then afterwards it gets back to normal. That's it.
“It was the same when we were young - it was so competitive between us. In the amount of pizzas we could eat, the wrestling matches in the hotel rooms, whatever it was. It’s the same today.”
Rosberg is wise enough to acknowledge that if, as expected, they are fighting at the front, maintaining their friendship will be difficult. “It will definitely be harder, yes. The more success we have, the tougher it is.”
Mercedes in 2013 were also not afraid of employing team orders, which never helps foster harmony. In Malaysia last year, while Red Bull were mired in their own controversy, as Sebastian Vettel ignored a direct order to pass Mark Webber for the lead, Rosberg was enduring his own frustration. Unlike his compatriot, however, he obeyed the order to hold his position. After the chequered flag had fallen, he ominously told his team on the radio: “Remember this one.”
There is a weariness in his voice when he is reminded of the controversy. “Ah, this subject again. I’ve been through it so much. I just wanted to reiterate that I really was a team player, which is what the team wanted from me.
“I wanted to make sure that the team remembers what I did for the future, which they very much did. It all worked out well, and I would do exactly the same tomorrow if I had to do that decision, because in the end it’s a team sport. I need my team to do it together, and I respect my team, and their decisions.”
Fundamentally, however, whatever role team orders play in 2014 at Mercedes, this is the season for Rosberg to emerge from Vettel’s shadow, and to truly establish himself in the very highest echelons of the sport.
Justly or unjustly, in recent seasons Rosberg has struggled to be recognised among that select few of Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, and perhaps Raikkonen. After three years in which he outclassed the returning Michael Schumacher, the consensus was that the seven-time champion had lost his way, not that his younger team-mate had stepped up.
And in 2013, when he matched Lewis Hamilton in the same machinery, popular opinion had it that Hamilton's standards had slipped, rather than Rosberg’s being elevated.
Rosberg harbours no resentment – “I respect that opinion, but it’s not something that annoys me” – and prefers to focus on the verdicts of those within the Mercedes family.
“I need the support of everybody to be able to win,” he says. “I’m very conscious of that. I really like to try and work together with everybody and get the best out of everything that we have.”
We meet at an event for Thomas Sabo in Munich, a brand for which he is an ambassador, but when asked if he enjoys these kinds of events as a relief from Formula One, his mind immediately turns back to a frenzied pre-season.
Rosberg admits Mercedes “underestimated” the challenge of Formula One on their return to the sport after half a century in 2010. Since then, however, they have invested hugely, assembling a technical team which is the envy of the paddock.
In pre-season testing they showed little sign of missing the retiring Ross Brawn. While Red Bull floundered, the silver arrows racked up the miles, setting a searing pace in the process. Rosberg, with just three career wins to his name to date, can expect many more this season, with his eye for technical detail well matched to the plethora of new regulations.
“There’s so much that’s different this season. It’s really a matter of practising to integrate it all, and making it sub-conscious. The more you have to think, that’s when things are going to go wrong. There’s a very positive energy and momentum in the team. Everybody is really firing up. It’s obvious in every single person. We’re ready to step up – we feel it.”