Rosberg, by contrast, was championship caliber and he kept proving it in '83, despite F1's turbo tide reaching tsunami proportions. The Williams FW08 had been updated to “C” spec, flat-bottomed in accordance with the FIA's new regulations which outlawed ground-effects. Without aero underbodies, a Cosworth car – even one as fine-handling as the FW08 – should truly not have been a threat anywhere, but again Rosberg would not accept the odds stacked against him.
At Long Beach, Keke had that famous 360deg spin as he tried to pass Patrick Tambay's Ferrari for the lead on the opening lap. On re-catching the red car, he was again overambitious and this time the pair made contact and that resulted in the retirement of both. But we've got to remember that, by now, Rosberg wasn't taking 50/50 chances: he was trying to make 20/80 chances work in his favor. Dear God, at Monza, as fastest Cosworth runner in 16th, he qualified six seconds from pole! (F1's current "within 107 percent of pole" rule would truly have left the grids decimated in the turbo era….)
People recall Rosberg's brilliant win at Monaco and his no less astonishing pole at Rio, but these were merely the high points. After eight of 15 rounds, he was fourth in the championship and, had he not been excluded from second place in the Brazilian Grand Prix following a fire and a push-start when a fuel stop went wrong, he'd have been leading it! Then, as now, that was pretty hard to believe. Can you think of any of his rivals that year who'd have found the motivation, never mind the pace, to keep on keeping on – so successfully – as Rosberg? I can't.
In late 2001, preparing a story for a different publication on the 1982 F1 season, I flew to Monaco to interview Keke and it was an enjoyable, entertaining and informative day. And whether telling a story about others or against himself, the guy is seriously funny. None of that surprised me, because I was (still am) an avid reader of F1 journalist Nigel Roebuck's stories, and thus knew what a great raconteur and honest man Rosberg is. But I suppose I can admit now that I never felt completely comfortable in his presence because…I was slightly awestruck.
At one point, Keke asked me who my motorsports hero had been before I'd become a writer. “I'm not just saying this because of what happened this year,” I replied, “but it was Michele Alboreto.” I don't think I could have surprised or pleased Rosberg more. His face lit up with the biggest grin. “Really? Ah, I don't blame you at all.” Then he looked sad at the memory of his former rival who'd been killed in a sports car crash earlier that year, and he turned away to stare out the window while drawing on his cigar. “Yep,” he sighed, “Michele was a very good driver and a very good man…”
What I couldn't say then, but feel safe to say now from the distance of 5,000 miles and 11 years, is that Rosberg was my first racing hero, the man who became the focal point for me on grand prix weekends as I was falling into motorsports addiction.
And my opinion is shared by many. My boss, Laurence Foster, who covered Keke's later career in DTM and International Touring Cars, hasn't a bad word to say about him, enthuses about what a smart and affable guy he is, as well as one hell of a driver. Ask veteran journalist Gordon Kirby about Rosberg's performances in Formula Atlantic and Can-Am, and he'll wax lyrical. And Bobby Rahal, one of the Finn's toughest rivals in Atlantic, sums him up like this: “Keke chain-smoked, had big balls, drove the wheels off a racecar and was charismatic on and off the track.”
Rosberg's biggest problem in terms of public perception, aside from the stats of 1982 which, as I've said, are highly misleading, is that only in the last two years of his F1 career did he have one of the best cars. Driving the unwieldy Theodore to victory in F1's non-championship International Trophy at Silverstone in '78 should have led to a drive with a top team.
Instead, he spent almost four more years dragging around recalcitrant chassis for the dying ATS, Wolf and Fittipaldi teams. Indeed, had Alan Jones not left it so late to tell Frank Williams of his decision to quit grand prix racing at the end of '81, Rosberg might never have found his way into a decent team. And that would have been a sad waste of a towering talent.
Find more obscure highlights, such as footage of the No. 6 Williams hunting down and then slipstreaming Tambay's turbo Ferrari – despite a 300hp deficit, remember – along the pit straight at Zandvoort in '82; or the (now No. 1) Williams lapping Spa in 1983, clambering and flying over curbs in an attempt to be less than three seconds off the pace of the turbo cars. They leave the viewer in absolutely no doubt how much of the performance was down to the driver.
While Rosberg's years of piloting uncompetitive cars worked in our favor as spectators, it did him no favors in the history books: five wins in 114 Grand Prix starts is a strike rate bettered by many far less gifted drivers in Formula 1 history. Given his level of talent, he should have a victory tally up with peers such as Mansell and Piquet. But those who watched him and marveled at his driving…We know. Keke Rosberg's combination of scorching speed and unflinching refusal to back down ensures him a place in Formula 1's hall of fame. And that 1982 World Championship couldn't have gone to a more deserving driver.