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Laidback Rosberg in relaxed mood ahead of Russia

29 Apr 2016

Racing drivers are athletes, who train assiduously and watch every calorie that they consume. So why was Nico Rosberg sitting with some friends in a Burger King at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport on the night of the Chinese Grand Prix instead of in a first class lounge?

“It’s become a tradition,” said the man who took his first F1 pole and victory there in 2012 and had just won this year’s race. “We celebrated this way then, and it’s become something that we do here every year…”

He has a lot to be celebrating now, too. He and his wife Vivian adore their seven month-old daughter Alaia, and earlier this year, in a story he specifically plays down, the new father reportedly saved the life of a five year-old who got into difficulties swimming in Monaco.

And in case you’d forgotten, he’s won all three of the Grands Prix so far this year, bringing the streak he started in Mexico last year to six. He leads Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, the reigning world champion, by 36 points.

On nine occasions the men who have won the opening three races of a season have gone on to become champion: Alberto Ascari in 1953, Juan Manuel Fangio in 1954 and 1957; Ayrton Senna in 1991, Nigel Mansell in 1992, Damon Hill in 1996, and Michael Schumacher in 2000, 2003 and 2004. But informed of this that evening in China, he merely smiled.

“Nine? That’s not a very exclusive statistic, is it?

“Okay, six if you factor in that Fangio and Schumacher did it more than once…

“Same difference!”

It takes a lot to impress this quiet and often misunderstood racer, so frequently overshadowed by the charisma and pizzazz of Hamilton, whose outgoing nature is much more similar to Rosberg’s ebullient father Keke, the champion in 1982.

“I keep saying, this is only the third race of 21; there are another 18 to go and anything could happen, so there’s no point in getting over-excited about anything this early in the game.”

Rosberg stressed the latter point again here in Russia yesterday, while also suggesting how strong a threat he believes Ferrari will be this weekend.

“I’m not really sounding any notes of caution, I’m just realistic and Ferrari, amongst others, just haven’t shown what they can do yet. They’ve taken each other out in the last race in the first corner and from then it was just messy, as an example. A lot of things have been going wrong and for sure they are a lot quicker than they have shown and we think they are very, very close to us.”

Denying that he feels any sort of mental burden upon him to be champion this season, he continued: “I generally see it as a very pleasurable experience! Because it’s just an awesome feeling to come to a race track, to know that I have the car to be able to be on pole and win the race. I just look forward to it. So I’m here in Sochi and I can’t wait to get going and see where we are compared to our direct rivals and try to make it happen.”

And doubtless remembering his famous lock-up on the first lap here in 2014, which cost him the race, he responded to suggestions that it might be a less exciting race than China with only single pit stops predicted, by saying, “Yeah, strategy-wise that’s not going to make it as exciting probably as China, for example, in terms of overtaking. More straightforward than there. But, y’know, Turn One, for example, is still a good place to overtake on this track and we’ve seen some exciting stuff in past years. Not as much, of course, as China but some individual exciting moves, so hopefully it will still be good. Let’s see.”