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Keke Rosberg

Full Name:
Kejio Erik "Keke" Rosberg
6th December 1948 (Age 72)
Stockholm, Sodermanland (S)
Most recent race (in database):

This flamboyant Finn only won five Grands Prix but his spectacular car control and laconic character made him every inch a star. Chances of Formula 1 success initially seemed remote, but the retirements of two stars and the tragic 1982 season contrived to deliver Keke Rosberg the World Championship itself. Instantly recognisable with his full moustache and cigarette close to hand, he lit up the F1 paddock for nine seasons.

Karting and early career

There was no great motor racing tradition in Finland when the Stockholm-born Rosberg began racing karts. Three times national champion and now Finnish importer for Birel karts, he started the 1970 World Karting Championship from pole position but blew his engine in the first final. He then drove through the field in the second race to finish fifth overall.

It was in Formula Vee that Rosberg cut his car racing teeth from 1972, graduating to the more senior Super Vee category after two seasons. Runner-up in the 1974 Castrol GTX Championship in Germany, he remained in that series to clinch the 1975 title.

Formula 2 was next with Rosberg joining Jörg Obermoser’s Warsteiner-sponsored team for the 1976 season. Unfortunately their Toj F201-BMW was an ungainly car and early progress was hampered by its Michelin radial tyres. Matters improved with a switch to the more commonly used Goodyear rubber with the confident Finn displaying both flair and bravery. Fourth at Rouen and fifth at Hockenheim, Rosberg emphasised his promise by qualifying third at Estoril on a one-off in Fred Opert’s Chevron B35-Hart.

Transatlantic commuter and Formula 1 debut

Rosberg remained with Opert in 1977 and began a frenetic year by winning the Peter Stuyvesant New Zealand International Series. He then spent the summer racing in both European F2 and Canadian Formula Atlantic. A dominant victory at Enna-Pergusa was the F2 highlight and further podium finishes at the Nürburgring (when third) and Donington (second) helped secure sixth in the standings despite having missed a couple of rounds. With Gilles Villeneuve away making his Formula 1 debut at Silverstone, Rosberg scored his breakthrough F.Atlantic victory at Westwood driving Opert’s Excita Condoms Chevron B39. That gave Rosberg the championship lead but Villeneuve returned to regain the initiative with the Finn slipping to fourth overall.

If that had been hectic then 1978 was even more so. New Zealand Champion once more, Rosberg had intended another dual F2 and F.Atlantic campaign for North American Chevron importer Opert. In addition, Rosberg joined Theodore Racing for his F1 debut in South Africa. He then scored a shock victory in the International Trophy at Silverstone after torrential rain decimated the non-championship field. Further outings with ATS and in Theodore’s recently acquired ex-works Wolf-Ford included running fourth in the British GP for the former – a fine points’ score lost to suspension failure. Budget concerns hampered Opert’s F2 campaign during 1978. Rosberg’s virtuoso performances were rewarded with second place at the Nürburgring and victory in Donington Park’s £50,000 European Trophy. That was his penultimate F2 race before he quit the series mid-season to concentrate on F1 and his challenge for the North American F.Atlantic title. He drove Opert’s Chevron in the latter and won at Westwood, Québec City and Hamilton to finish as runner-up behind Howdy Holmes.

Initially without an F1 opportunity in 1979, the perennially underrated Rosberg made the most of two F2 starts replacing the absent Derek Daly. Rosberg substituted in the Irishman’s Project 4 Racing March 792-BMW at Hockenheim and the Nürburgring and scored a lights to flag victory in the former and qualified on pole position at the ‘Ring. Regular employment that year was to have been in the Can-Am Challenge and Rosberg’s Newman-Freeman Racing Spyder NF11-Chevrolet won the opening round at Road Atlanta and again at Watkins Glen.

Formula 1 return with Wolf and Fittipaldi

By that time, James Hunt had abruptly quit Walter Wolf’s F1 team and Rosberg was drafted in as his replacement. He came ninth in France on his debut for the team but was unable to finish another race, even failing to qualify in Canada. The Dutch GP was Rosberg’s strongest performance of the year where he ran fourth before engine failure ended his day.

Walter Wolf Racing was sold to Fittipaldi Automotive at the end of the season and Rosberg and Emerson formed a two-car line-up for the 1980 World Championship. The year began with Rosberg finishing in a surprise third place in Argentina on a day when he tempered his normally ragged style. Introduction of the new Fittipaldi F8-Ford coincided with Rosberg qualifying eighth in Germany but poor reliability and limited sponsorship obscured the team’s potential. Fifth in the Italian GP (having been just 23rd on the opening lap) was the Finn’s only other points’ score as he shared 10th in the final standings.

Rosberg was Fittipaldi’s unequivocal number one driver in 1981 but it was a disastrous campaign. A much-needed title sponsor failed to materialise and the modified F8C lacked development as a consequence. Both Rosberg and team-mate Chico Serra were regular non-qualifiers from mid-season and Rosberg’s F1 prospects appeared bleak once more.

World Champion for Williams

However, his immediate future was resolved when Alan Jones announced his retirement from racing in December 1981. Rosberg had already impressed the Williams team in testing at Paul Ricard and he joined the team for the 1982 season. Carlos Reutemann, who had considered retirement during the close season, suddenly quit the team after just two races and Rosberg responded to becoming de facto team leader with new found maturity. His Williams FW08-Ford was soon the fastest and most consistent of the normally aspirated cars and he qualified on pole position at Brands Hatch before winning the Swiss GP at Dijon-Prenois. Initially, all had seemed set fair for Ferrari success in 1982 but Gilles Villeneuve was killed during qualifying for the Belgian GP and championship leader Didier Pironi gravely injured at Hockenheim. With Renault and Brabham-BMW both fast but fragile, the championship decider in Las Vegas was between a pair of slower but more reliable Ford Cosworth runners: Rosberg and the McLaren of John Watson. With just one win to his name, Rosberg finished that race in fifth position to seal an unlikely world title.

The highlight of Rosberg’s championship defence was a memorable victory in the 1983 Monaco GP when his slick-shod Williams FW08C-Ford proved ideally suited to the drying track. He also won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in April – the last non-championship F1 race ever held. He was second in Detroit but the need for turbo-power was now obvious. The solution came in the form of the Honda V6 with which Rosberg finished fifth on its debut in the final race of the season.

The Williams FW09-Honda was a cumbersome beast and 1984 was all-but lost trying to sort the car’s handling issues. Second in the opening GP at Rio de Janeiro, Rosberg survived the 100° heat and crumbling track to win the Dallas GP on a temporary track in Fair Park. However, despite his trademark never-say-die attitude and resilience, Rosberg only scored points in three more races and finished a disappointing eighth overall.

Now in the final year of his Williams contract, Rosberg won the 1985 Detroit and Australian GPs to finish third in the World Championship. His sheer speed over a single lap was illustrated by back-to-back pole positions in France and Britain – averaging a then record 160.925mph on the damp Silverstone track. However, with new team-mate Nigel Mansell scoring breakthrough victories that autumn, Rosberg opted for a fresh challenge in 1986.

A final season with McLaren and life after F1

He joined reigning champions McLaren-TAG for the 1986 World Championship but that proved to be a frustrating final F1 season. He was eclipsed by team-mate Alain Prost and struggled to tailor the MP4/2C to his aggressive driving style. Second on the streets of Monte Carlo was his only podium finish and pole position for the German GP a rare reminder of his qualifying pace. Eventually sixth in the World Championship, Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport.

Away from racing for a couple of years, he was lured out of retirement in 1990 by World Sportscar Championship newcomers Peugeot. Rosberg and Jean-Pierre Jabouille shared a single Peugeot 905 in the last two races of the season but suffered inevitable teething troubles. Yannick Dalmas was his co-driver for a full campaign in 1991 and they won successive races at Magny-Cours and México City as the team finished as runners-up behind Jaguar.

The next three seasons were spent with Mercedes-Benz in the German Touring Car Championship – winning at Wunstorf and finishing fifth overall in that debut campaign in 1992. Since retiring as a driver in 1995, Rosberg helped guide the careers of the likes of Mika Häkkinen, JJ Lehto and his son Nico. He has also run a successful team in the DTM and Formula 3 championships.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1995 International Touring Car Series
Team Rosberg
9 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
20th 3
1995 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
Team Rosberg
14 0 0 0
0% win rate
18th 17
1994 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
Joest Racing
22 (2) 0 1 0
0% win rate
14th 29
1993 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
Joest Racing
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
17th 4
1992 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
AMG Mercedes
23 (1) 2 9 1
5% win rate
5th 147
1991 World Sportscar Championship
Peugeot Talbot Sport
8 1 2 2 13th 40
1990 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Peugeot Talbot Sport
2 0 0 0 0
1986 F1 World Championship
Marlboro McLaren International
16 1 1 0
0% win rate
6th 22
1985 F1 World Championship
Canon Williams Honda Team
16 2 5 2
13% win rate
3rd 40
1984 F1 World Championship
Williams Grand Prix Engineering
16 0 2 1
7% win rate
8th 20.5
1983 F1 World Championship
TAG Williams Team
15 1 2 1
7% win rate
5th 27
1983 World Endurance Championship
GTi Engineering
1 0 1 0 25th 12
1982 F1 World Championship
TAG Williams Team
15 1 6 1
7% win rate
1st 44
1981 F1 World Championship
Fittipaldi Automotive
9 (5) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1980 F1 World Championship
Skol Fittipaldi Team
11 (3) 0 1 0
0% win rate
10th 6
1979 F1 World Championship
Olympus Cameras Wolf Racing
7 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1979 European F2 Championship
Project 4 Racing
2 1 1 1
50% win rate
12th 9
1979 SCCA Citicorp Can-Am Challenge
Newman-Freeman Racing
2 0 2 2 0
1978 F1 World Championship
ATS Racing Team
Theodore Racing Hong Kong
9 (5) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1978 European F2 Championship
Fred Opert Racing
7 (1) 0 2 1
15% win rate
5th 16
1978 New Zealand International Championship 1st -
1977 European F2 Championship
Fred Opert Racing
11 1 3 1
10% win rate
6th 25
1977 New Zealand International Championship 1st -
1976 European F2 Championship
Fred Opert Racing
Team Warsteiner Eurorace
8 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
10th 5