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Newsmaker: Rosberg follows father Keke in his own fashion

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Formula One - F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - 25/11/2016 - Mercedes' Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany leaves at the end of the first practice session. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Formula One - F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - 25/11/2016 - Mercedes' Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany leaves at the end of the first practice session. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

By Alan Baldwin

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 world champion Keke, could be considered a chip off the old block after the Mercedes driver followed his Finnish father in winning the Formula One title but that would be a mistake.

A glance at old photographs and race reports serves to highlight the different eras and different personalities, even if both are now only the second set of father and son world champions.

The moustachioed Keke was swashbuckling, hard-charging, fast and muscular behind the wheel as well as being a noted chain-smoker in an era when drivers could not always be sure of surviving the season.

At Silverstone in 1985, the Finn became the first driver to lap a circuit at an average speed of more than 160 miles per hour in his Williams. When he got out of the car, he lit up a cigarette.

Nico, a personable and healthy-living family man with an easy charm sometimes mistaken for blandness, is much more likely to be seen tucking into an organic salad or devouring reams of data.

"Keke was very demanding...let's just say he didn't interact with the boys very well. He turned up, drove the car and went away again," recalled former McLaren stalwart Dave Ryan who worked with him in 1986. "But he was a huge personality."

Nobody would have dared to bestow on Keke the nickname 'Britney', after pop star Britney Spears, that Nico was given early in his career by Williams team mate Mark Webber in a reference to his blond good looks.

Expensively educated -- he had a place to study aeronautical engineering at London's Imperial College -- and fluent in five languages, Nico was born in Germany but grew up in a life of luxury in Monaco.

The 31-year-old is very different also to team mate and triple champion Lewis Hamilton, a regular in the celebrity gossip pages who spends plenty of time in America hanging out with friends from the worlds of film and music.

Much of the debate in the run-up to the title decider focused on whether Rosberg, who has also had to contend with jibes that he is not really German, would make a 'boring' champion.

Indeed, there are those who have questioned whether he is even a worthy winner.

Formula One's 86-year-old supremo Bernie Ecclestone has made little secret of the fact that the edgier Briton, whose background is a world apart from Rosberg's privileged upbringing, is better box-office.

"I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment. And Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things," Hamilton said during their 2014 title battle.

"So the hunger is different."

Any driver who under-estimates Rosberg, and just how much hunger and desire he has, does so at their peril however.

Ross Brawn, the former Mercedes team principal who lured Rosberg from Williams to the now multiple championship-winning team, has no illusions.

"He’s very resilient. He slips behind a bit, then he has a good talking to himself and comes back. A lot of drivers, having been punished by Lewis for a couple of years, would have gone away," he said recently.

"He’s done a fabulous job of getting beaten and coming back."

Losing out to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015, Rosberg started 2016 with four straight victories.

He has won more races than most previous champions did in their careers, and nine this year alone -- even if Hamilton ended up with 10 and more pole positions as well.

Keke won his title with just one victory, ending his Formula One career with a mere five in total.

Those who point to Hamilton's reliability woes, and blown engines, as a big factor in the title outcome are ignoring the German's consistency, ability to clear his mind of clutter and sheer persistence.

"Of course he's a worthy world champion. You win the world championship or you don't win it," triple title-holder Jackie Stewart, who has long been an admirer of the German's talents, told Reuters.

A teenage friend and team mate of Hamilton in karting, the pair know each other and their emotional foibles better than any other drivers on the grid.

There have been plenty of psychological games but Rosberg has kept his focus this season, sticking to his mantra of taking one race at a time, and it has paid off.

"He just kept on scoring when it mattered," said team boss Toto Wolff.

"The points are what they are, they reflect his performance. And he has kept his cool."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)


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