Exclusive Nico Rosberg Q&A: Tyres key to title

19 Apr 2012

Winning a race is one thing, dominating is another. And to win at your 111th attempt sounds like a near miracle. Few winning drivers have had to wait as long as Nico Rosberg for their first victory, but after his triumph in China last weekend the floodgates may just have opened. It was an admittedly somewhat unexpected result, but one that adds two more names to the list of 2012 title contenders in Rosberg and Mercedes’ team mate Michael Schumacher…

Q: Nico, it was all about the ‘ones’ in China: it was your 111th race, you started from P1 and you finished in P1. Have you finally arrived at your destination: number one?

Nico Rosberg: Ha, I don’t know - it just came together pretty well. Actually it was the perfect weekend, it was simply great - and of course I am looking forward to more wins together with my team. But at the same time we all have to stay realistic because we are not the best yet. We need to be careful, because trees don’t grow up to heaven in a single weekend! (laughs)

Q: You have always had good self-esteem, so reaching P1 must have been on your agenda for quite some time…

NR: Of course, the aim was to win - and China was the first step in getting there!

Q: Can you talk us through those fantastic 56 laps that you had? Was there ever a moment of doubt or fear that it would not be enough for a win?

NR: In the beginning, yes, as I expected some cars to come from behind - to shoot past me - as until then we’d been struggling in the previous races. But as the race went on I started to feel, ‘Wow, I am very strong!’ (laughs) Actually, I realized that the others weren’t able to go any faster, none of the usual suspects. Obviously they were having their own issues, so I started to believe more and more that this could be it, this is all really happening to me - no false bottom, no hallucinations, it’s real. The moment when I really realized that it could be my first win was when I was catching Jenson (Button) before his last stop. I had already done mine and calculation-wise it was very unlikely that he would be able to catch me, should I stay out of trouble.

Q: What was so different in China to the two Grands Prix before? It was no secret that qualifying was the team’s forte rather than the race, but in Shanghai both worked perfectly…

NR: That were many reasons. Firstly, we progressed a lot with the car and the set-up and learned a lot about the tyres. That was one big issue. But the conditions also played to our advantage - the temperature, the track layout and track surface all that came together. And, of course, it helps to start from pole position. When others have to battle for position you just have to keep yours - that was a fantastic experience for me. And of course we got our strategy right - as I said, it all came together nicely. (laughs)

Q: The tyres - or the small operating window the tyres seemed to have on the Mercedes - how did you beat that issue?

NR: Tyres will be key to this year’s championship win. And ‘beat’ is probably too big a phrase - it was teamwork, as it had to do with the right set-up, the perfect strategy, and, of course, mindful driving. It all had to come together.

Q: So explain what a team and driver will have to get right to gain the upper hand in this year’s championship battle?

NR: It is finding the right combination. And after three races it is my guess that the tyres are still a big question mark in everybody’s mind up and down the paddock. So far nobody has found the right and ultimate formula to ‘read’ the tyres. We are all in a learning process - and maybe at the end of the season we still won’t have prised all the secrets out of them. They are a really complex issue.

Q: How important was the timing of that win, for you and the team? Are you the saviour of Mercedes F1 future? It’s hard to explain the cost-benefit ratio without a benefit…

NR: It was an important win. We had such high hopes in the winter and then two such difficult races, so China was a huge morale boost - a confidence boost that brought us all much more together in our endeavour to go out for more. It came a bit unexpectedly, but those are the best things - those that you cannot predict. From the experience of the first two races all we probably hoped for in China was a good result - not winning, and definitely not dominating. Coming to the team, I was not thinking of anything like being the saviour. I was thinking of my mechanics on the pit wall and what we achieved that weekend. That was on my mind. Later it crossed my mind that Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss - and me - we all won races in a silver arrow. That of course was an extra bonus for my history. Mercedes had always said that the team is cost-neutral, so no cost-benefit ratio crossed my mind. The important message is we are moving forward and we have success.

Q: What did you do to celebrate? It is well known that Mercedes-Benz Motorsport’s Vice-President, Norbert Haug, knows how to party…

NR: We celebrated in a fast-food restaurant at Shanghai Airport! We were flying out that night so the celebration has to wait for another opportunity. (laughs)

Q: And how was it, having to wait 111 races for the first win? How much frustration and self-doubt were hidden in that number?

NR: It was okay. I cannot say that all these races were bad, as I had good times, I had good results, and I had my emotions - just as I had last Sunday. It is always nice if you believe you delivered a good race. Sure, results matter, but a good race in itself almost counts - almost - as much, knowing that you’ve done a fantastic job. After all, we are here for the racing! Finishing first is just the icing on the cake - and you can celebrate with your team the excellent work you’ve done.

Q: Now that the spell is broken, will we see a winning streak from you and Mercedes? What has to come together here in Bahrain, with its very different conditions?

NR: I don’t know about a winning streak. And what happens here, I have no idea. Maybe if you expect the least then the biggest surprises will come your way! (laughs) I am ready for it.

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