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‘Sisu’ is my secret - exclusive Nico Rosberg interview

31 Mar 2016

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg comes to Bahrain looking for his fifth successive Grand Prix victory. Ahead of the Sakhir weekend, we sat down with the championship leader to discuss how he managed his Melbourne race to perfection, how the new curbs on pit-to-car communication present a challenge he relishes, and how his Finnish heritage holds the key to his resurgence…

Q: Nico, how did it feel to show to the world that you’re not Lewis Hamilton’s understudy - that the three wins at the end of 2015 were not down to your team mate ‘taking his foot off the gas’? In Australia you beat him again - fair and square…

Nico Rosberg: Ha, to be honest it didn’t give me any particular feelings, because I didn’t think of it that way. I was just happy having won the race. Actually it was a very challenging race because I had to beat the Ferraris and I had to get my car through the race. My car had rubber stuck in the brakes and the brake temperatures were on the limit - and I couldn’t get any help from the pit wall as communication is forbidden. I had to drive on my own and try to figure out how to save the brakes. I was one degree from the safety limits at which they retire the car - one degree! And I managed to stay under.

Q: In that specific situation would it have made a difference having more communication with your engineers?

NR: Massive difference. But it was great: I made it. We are on our own now - we have to manage such situations ourselves - and that’s a good challenge!

Q: Is it racing ‘old school’ style, like your father Keke did? Just man and machine…

NR: Yes, it is, that’s great. I like that challenge. It’s back to a good simplicity. But as a result of it we will see more retirements, as people will make mistakes in the way they manage things on their own in the race.

Q: So some drivers may find it hard to cope with the fact that they are no longer puppets on the strings of the pit wall?

NR: It will be harder to get close to perfection without the help of the pit wall. I cannot see what the pit wall sees. The pit wall was going crazy when looking at the temperature: one degree more on the brakes and they would have pushed the button meaning ‘Nico stop the car’. Me in the car, I didn’t know that it was so close to the limit. It is all down to safety. Yes, when my father was driving they had no way of knowing the inner workings of the car during the race - but they also had massive crashes back then…

Q: After your fourth win in a row, were you surprised by your victory after a rather poor start into the Melbourne weekend?

NR: No, no poor start into the weekend. It rained - but that in the end is irrelevant. I knew that I had the car to win and my weekend flourished with every day that passed.

Q: Sometimes you give the impression that you are at your best when standing with your back to the wall. Is that something psychological?

NR: At my best? No, I would object to that. But what I do do is I relish the challenge of bouncing back after a defeat or difficult moment… Coming back fiercely.

Q: So bouncing back is one of your strengths. When others write you off, you prove them all wrong…

NR: Thank you very much. I tell you my secret: Sisu - the characteristic trait of Finns. Everything is in it: stamina, persistence, relentlessness, fighting spirit and strength. We can release it in difficult moments. It’s my Finnish heritage from my father.

Q: Isn’t it about time for you to win the title? Is 2016 different to any other year?

NR: In my mind there is no frustration about not having won the title yet. I gave it all I had in the last two years and Lewis did a better job and won. I will try again this year. I enjoy the battle. I am not transfixed on the end result. I like the fight with Lewis. Like this weekend: I come here knowing that I can win the race. What an exciting feeling to fight the Ferraris! I watch TV and see [Ferrari team principal] Maurizio Arrivabene being an ‘Italian animal’ at the pit wall. I like fighting that Italian spirit - that raises mine. To beat them, that’s fantastic.

Q: The media sometimes like to portray you as someone who lacks charisma. What are you doing about that?

NR: Not much. I don’t hear that - and I don’t race for charisma. I don’t race to try to prove something to somebody about charisma (laughs) - I race to win. I am aware that I am a ‘product’ in this Formula One world and I am very active in giving something back to the fans - integrating myself on social media platforms. I do that because I am aware of my position - that millions of fans are watching me. So I want to bring myself closer to them by showing them some funny insights into me and my life in the fast lane. It’s good to see that so many follow me on social media.

Q: Would it have changed anything if you had raced as a Monegasque rather than a German driver. You spent most of your youth in Monaco and you live there now with your family…

NR: I don’t know if it would have changed anything. I don’t have a Monegasque passport. I am German with a German passport.

Q: What makes Nico Rosberg happy?

NR: My family. I spent Easter with them. I have the most awesome wife, the funniest daughter. It is a wonderful experience and it makes me happy. Spending time with friends makes me happy. Winning in Melbourne makes me happy! (laughs)

Q: What significance does success have for you?

NR: It has a high importance for me. I live for racing and the success in racing. Take Easter Monday, a complete family day: I got up before everybody else to go out on my bicycle so that I am fully on it in Bahrain. Every day I am thinking about how I can win as many races as possible this year. I am determined and committed.

Q: Lewis has said that he is very religious…

NR: Good for him…

Q: …and you are ‘very’ what?

NR: I am very focused on working with myself, pushing myself in any way possible - that is probably my religion… What I think, how I think, how I can make progress as a human being. I read a lot about that.

Q: So you analyse yourself?

NR: Yes, I do - the feelings that I have, my emotions.

Q: Mercedes came away from Melbourne with a one-two victory, but the start was not particularly world champion-like. Can you talk us through those first hundred metres?

NR: To get it straight, in my head I was coming out first after the first corner. Sebastian (Vettel) did a good job! In my head I was taking turn one, I was braking later - but he really braked very, very late! I was very surprised by that. I was braking late and locked everything up…

Q: Would you have had the guts to brake as late as Sebastian? Now you know that it is possible…

NR: Now that I know, it is easy to have the guts. But believe me, I had guts - any moment later and I would have gone off the track.

Q: Obviously Mercedes appear to have a shortcoming on starts. How has the team been working on that since Melbourne?

NR: I was on the bad - the dirty - side of the track, so my start was okay, but oh boy, Sebastian had a really good one. And then also Kimi (Raikkonen) sneaked through. But we are working on it this weekend. With the rule changes it makes it even more difficult.

Q: Is that something where Ferrari are better?

NR: Wait a minute: it’s only one race – and we are working on it.

Q: What are the odds of you making it a fifth win in a row this weekend?

NR: That’s not really on my mind. I take it race by race, trying to be better than anybody else - beating everybody else. One word explains it all: Sisu! And I have the car! (laughs)