Whatever, the end result was that the Flying Finn was grounded for much of the season, and rarely soared as high as eventual repeat champion, Prost. At Hockenheim, which in its original form required ultra-low downforce, the MP4/2C's minimal rear wing made the front end far more positive, and Keke slid that McLaren through the twisty stadium section like a dirt car. Result? Pole position.
And in his final grand prix, in Adelaide (ABOVE), he led comfortably until a rear tire delaminated. Thinking the vibration came from a seizing engine, he promptly stopped out on the circuit. Had he limped around to the pits, he might still have won. But up to the point he pulled over, F1's ultimate bare-knuckle street fighter, in terms of sheer pace, had left his rivals on the ground.
For some people, Rosberg's troubled final year in grand prix racing takes the shine off his reputation. But why? After all, many great talents in open-wheel racing have struggled to give their best when given a car that fundamentally doesn't mesh with their driving style: recent examples include Juan Montoya in '06, Kimi Raikkonen in '09 and Michael Schumacher pretty much since he returned to the sport he once dominated.
And yet the achievement in Rosberg's résumé that is dismissed by many is, statistically and literally, his crowning achievement – winning the 1982 World Championship. Part of this is because he won only one grand prix that year, but the '82 F1 season was so riddled with tragedy, misfortune, inconsistency and frankly bizarre occurrences that no one won more than twice. There were 11 different winners in 16 races.
And Rosberg, more than any other champion in F1 history, was fighting huge odds: his normally aspirated Cosworth-powered FW08 was outgunned by the turbos to the tune of 300hp-plus in races, 400hp-plus in qualifying. So at tracks with long straights, Keke had to simply do his best…which he did: at Kyalami and Monza (RIGHT) he was fastest Cosworth qualifier, at Hockenheim and Paul Ricard, he was top normally aspirated finisher. Anywhere else, he had to exploit the fine handling of the aged Williams FW07C (at the start of the year) and then the definitive '82 car, the FW08.
And this too, he did. At Brands Hatch, Rosberg even managed to take pole in what was maybe the ninth or 10th fastest car. As luck would have it, his engine wouldn't fire on the parade lap and he had to start from the back, but to give you an idea of just how determined he was that day, when the lights flashed green he passed six cars before he hit the start/finish line! By lap nine, he was 12th, by lap 15 he was sixth. Ultimately, loss of fuel pressure would cost him a top-four finish.
In Austria, Rosberg was 2.7sec off pole during qualifying, but half that much again ahead of the next Cosworth entry. Ironically, de Angelis drove that car, and he'd be the guy who beat him to victory by a nanosecond the following day. But in the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon (LEFT), Rosberg won. Only in the finale did he drive conservatively, finishing fifth – just enough to clinch the championship.
Was it deserved? Yes. Unquestionably.
OK, had Gilles Villeneuve not been killed, he'd probably have been the '82 champ, and in his absence, Ferrari teammate Didier Pironi would have gotten the job done but had a career-ending accident at Hockenheim. And Renault's pathetic reliability record cost Prost and Arnoux any chance at the crown. But they all had 60 percent more horsepower, and Rosberg was without question the outstanding driver in the normally aspirated cars. In terms of consistently producing giant-killing performances, he was in a league of his own that year.
The man who could have beaten him to the crown at the season-closer, John Watson, produced some very strong performances that season – notably at Detroit, and also in Zolder where he beat Rosberg in a straight fight on the FW08's debut. But at more races than not, Watson wasn't even the best McLaren driver (that was Lauda) let alone the best Cosworth runner. Had “Wattie” prevailed in the 1982 title race, it would have been an anomaly in the sport's history, which dodged similar bullets in 1981 (Jacques Laffite), 1999 (Eddie Irvine) and 2008 (Felipe Massa). All were fine drivers and capable of occasional brilliance, but were only fifth- or sixth-best in the series.