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Do you remember… Rosberg’s stunning Bahrain debut

14 Apr 2015

Nico Rosberg put on a show in last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, going wheel to wheel with Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton in an epic fight for victory. But his Formula One race debut at the same track in 2006 was no less impressive, as we remember…

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In the Eighties few drivers could match Keke Rosberg for his blend of speed and sheer tyre-on-the-grass driving exuberance. It was an approach that earned the chain-smoking charger a devoted following, not to mention world title success in 1982, but it also heaped expectations on his son, Nico, ahead of his F1 debut with Williams at Sakhir in 2006.

Would Rosberg Junior, racing for his mother’s Germany rather than his father’s Finland, be a chip off the old block? His capture of the GP2 Series crown at the same circuit the previous year suggested the 20-year-old had the necessary speed, but did he, like his dad, have the required tenacity to bump elbows with the best in F1 racing and come out on top?

The answer came not on the first lap of his first race in Bahrain - where a misjudgement caused him to make contact with BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld at Turn 1, dropping him to last after a lengthy pit stop to replace a damaged front wing - but over the next 56 tours when he roared back through the field with an assuredness that belied his inexperience.

“I looked at the pit board the first time around (after his early pit stop) and I was dead last and 60 seconds behind everyone, so I thought that was it and I didn't expect anything from the race,” Rosberg would later recall.

"Then all of a sudden I started moving up and then on the radio they were saying: 'Nico you're doing great, you're the fastest man on the circuit'. And I was like, 'no way'.

"It felt really good out there and I was just pushing like hell. I got closer and closer and then had some great overtaking manoeuvres...which was a lot of fun.”

Indeed, in contrast to the rumours he’d heard that “it was impossible to overtake in F1”, Rosberg showed little hesitancy in cutting through the pack. What’s more, he kept the pressure on right until the chequered flag, passing Red Bull’s Christian Klien for seventh place on the last lap when another rookie might quite logically have settled for P8.

Two points on his debut was a superb achievement, but the icing on the cake was fastest lap.

"I could feel that I was bloody quick, but it was a bit of a surprise,” said Rosberg, who remains the youngest driver in history to record a fastest lap. “I mean you have (Michael) Schumacher and (Fernando) Alonso driving flat out at the front and I was racing quicker than them, so it was a bit surprising to me, but it was really great."

Unsurprisingly, Rosberg’s performance made people in the paddock sit up and take notice, with Sir Jackie Stewart leading the praise:

"I think it's the best performance of any young driver that I've seen for a very long time," the three-time world champion said.

"I can't remember a performance in a first Grand Prix that was so impressive. I had a sixth place in my first Grand Prix but he came from the back and I certainly didn't get fastest lap. His judgement, the manner in which he went about it... it's a rare commodity today but as a racing driver he knows how to pass and carries it out."

But what did father Keke make of his son’s performance? "It was unbelievable,” he told Reuters. “To have a fastest race lap under normal conditions in your first ever Grand Prix… I don't think anybody has ever had that. Phenomenal.”

“I'll buy him dinner tonight."

You can’t say fairer than that.