Nico Rosberg: I've always been the boring, sensible guy (when not being arrested)

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Portfolio career: Former F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg is now a TV pundit, ambassador for Heineken, YouTube hit and a big supporter of electric mobility
Portfolio career: Former F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg is now a TV pundit, ambassador for Heineken, YouTube hit and a big supporter of electric mobility

Nico Rosberg is sitting at a tall table in the sunshine, shovelling pasta into his face like he hasn’t eaten in a week.

He’s just had to explain to police that the guy flying a drone in contravention of local regulations is his videographer, and it would be good if they didn’t arrest him.

One of the police asks Rosberg what he does: ‘I’m in racing.’

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A few moments pass as one of the officers talks on his radio, before saying to the German: ‘You’re one of those drivers, aren’t you?’

Rosberg nods.

‘Any good?’

Rosberg raises his eyebrows and gives a non-commital shrug. The police back off.

He’s never really been one to blow his own trumpet – even, it seems, when he and his videographer are facing arrest.

I’m chatting with Rosberg in Canada, where he has been promoting the latest Heineken anti-drink drive initiative – you’ll have seen the adverts, where Nico is the sensible guy saying ‘No’ to even one beer, because he’s still driving.

It’s all very well being paid to tell motorsport fans ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ but how does Rosberg feel about playing that sensible, boring guy in the bar?

‘I’ve always been a bit like that guy,’ says Rosberg. ‘I would be the sensible race driver out there. I’m not an adrenaline junkie at all, so I’m a bit different to all the other guys out there.

‘I don’t need the danger at all – I don’t seek danger in my life.’

I’ll get my thrills elsewhere

Like father… Keke and Nico Rosberg driving their respective championship-winning cars around the Monaco circuit earlier this year
Like father… Keke and Nico Rosberg driving their respective championship-winning cars around the Monaco circuit earlier this year

I’ve been told Rosberg is fed up with questions about his past – though, to be fair, he’s the only driver to have become World Champion since 2010 who isn’t Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel, and he is also the last person who managed to beat Hamilton at Silverstone, in 2013, so the past is still somewhat relevant.

If he’s not in F1, and he’s not an adrenaline junkie, then how does he get his thrills?

‘Competition. Any sort of competition – put me on a ping-pong table, I will be thrilled.

‘I like mental challenges as well, and at the moment the mental challenges come from diving into the start-up world of mobility.’

Rosberg is a case study of someone who is expert at getting his key messages into an interview. OK, we can talk about ‘mobility’.

‘I’ve invested in Formula E, and (Uber-style service) Lyft in America.’

When Rosberg talks about mobility, he really means electric and hybrid transport, and he talks about it like an engineer rather than a driver.

That’s not surprising – Rosberg stuck with racing rather than taking up a place studying engineering at Imperial College London. Indeed, when he joined Williams, he had to take a mandatory engineering test – and scored the highest ever marks.

‘In F1, one of my strengths was having an engineering understanding and so I’m bringing that into the mobility world. There are geniuses in that space who are innovating and changing the world.

‘Apparently, my mental challenge is getting to the level where they’re at.’

Rosberg is done with being a racer. That challenge is ticked off – is there nothing that would get him back in a race car?

‘Nothing. It’s 100 per cent over.

‘It was a great time and I understand that people would love to see me race Lewis again out there because it was awesome but … for me it was great and I won it, so thank you very much and now I’m moving on.’

Only here for the beer

Positive vibes: He may not be racing these days but Nico Rosberg is still a familiar figure around the world of F1
Positive vibes: He may not be racing these days but Nico Rosberg is still a familiar figure around the world of F1

Rosberg laughs and slams the table: ‘And I’m not taking your peer pressure to get back in a race car! You guys can try and push me as much as you want, I don’t compromise!

‘No compromise is how I won the World Championship, I dedicated my life to winning the World Championship.’

‘No compromise’ is one of the Heineken campaign taglines – that’s another key message Rosberg has managed to shoehorn in, albeit with a giggle.

‘I’ve got peer pressure to get back in a car, and in a bar you’ve got peer pressure to take a drink – it’s beer pressure, not peer pressure; don’t take that drink, don’t compromise…’

Rosberg riffs on the peer-beer pun. Suddenly, it’s like open mic night at the local comedy club and, just off-stage, someone is loitering with a long shepherd’s crook…

Later, over dinner, Rosberg is less circumspect about the compromises that were made in winning the F1 driver’s title, about the pressures not just on him but on his loved ones as well.

He and his wife Vivian have two young daughters, and competing in F1 would mean spending a huge amount of time apart from them.

In addition, as a driver fighting for the championship, his wife would know when he had a poor race and that could affect home life as well.

Once he’d won the championship, that was it for Rosberg. Whether or not others believed he could defend the title, he had reached the top and he wanted to move on to another challenge.

He did harbour ambitions to play at Wimbledon. But, he told me, it took about ten minutes on court to realise that was not exactly realistic.

Nico and Lewis: Spot the differences

Opposites don’t alway attract: Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, very different both on and off the track
Opposites don’t alway attract: Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, very different both on and off the track

Rosberg is a fascinating man to talk to, and he talks like he drives – with a bunch of gears that he changes regularly. First gear is almost disengaged, going though the motions; top is engaged when he’s getting his corporate messages out; and, in between, a whole lot of others that get used when he talks about the past, about F1 and, yes, about Hamilton.

He is never anything other than polite about Lewis but there’s always the impression that there are unhealed scars there.

Certainly, Rosberg does view himself as an outlier in terms of F1 drivers – more introverted, less of an egomaniac. Though he’s quick to point out that being a narcissistic ****hole isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the cut-throat world of F1.

I ask him if he’d still be racing had he not been crowned champion in 2016.

‘For sure,’ a knowing smile flits across his face, ‘but, the moment I’d won, I knew that was it.’

So what does the future hold for Rosberg?

‘I do know what I’ll be doing in three years. I’m fascinated by the sustainability revolution at the moment. Brands are becoming more aware of social responsibility.

‘I think it’s going to go ballistic, this movement, and the great thing is mobility is going to play a fundamental role in that. So I’ve invested in Formula E, which is at the forefront of e-mobility, which I’m a strong believer in.

‘I love the championship because it’s the pinnacle of e-mobility and e-mobility is going to explode in our world in the next two to three years.

‘Looking to the future, I would love to have a footprint in the sustainable technology movement, get early into some start-ups that will change the world.

‘And I would like to be a happy family man. That is what I would like.’

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