In the late 1970s Swedish-born Finn Keke Rosberg carved a formidable reputation in the junior formulae, battling with fellow rising star Gilles Villeneuve in Formula Atlantic before making his mark in Formula 1 with victory in the non-championship Silverstone International race for the Theodore team in 1978. Even before he had put that superb win at Silverstone into the record books there were many observers who were increasingly convinced that Rosberg was the next big talent.
His break with a frontrunning team came with Williams when Alan Jones abruptly retired at the end of the 1981 season. However, the wins were scattered around the field in 1982 and Keke had just one victory, in the Swiss GP at Dijon-Prenois, to help him on his way to the championship.
Williams were late to the turbo party and would have to wait until the final race in 1983 before launching their turbo V6 from Honda. Armed with turbo power into 1984, Rosberg still found his Honda-engined machine facing an uphill battle against the beautifully integrated McLaren-TAGs of Alain Prost and Niki Lauda. Nevertheless Keke scored a fine win in torrid conditions at the Dallas GP where most of his front-line opposition slid into the wall.
Rosberg confessed he was distinctly apprehensive over Williams’s decision to sign Nigel Mansell to drive alongside him in 1985 – and with characteristic candour was not about to keep his thoughts to himself. In his final season with Williams he scored two wins with the FW10 – and set pole position for the British GP with a lap that would stand for 16 years as the fastest in F1™ history – before deciding to sign a one year deal with McLaren in 1986.
“I thought I was the fastest driver in the world until I went to McLaren with Alain Prost,” he grinned impishly. “But that season proved that I wasn’t.”
He is perhaps being too hard on himself. At the opening round Rosberg outqualified Prost, but in the first half of the season the Frenchman generally had the better of his team-mate. Having guided the MP4/2’s development from the off, Prost was comfortable with the MP4/2C’s natural understeer balance – whereas Rosberg’s more aggressive style demanded a ‘pointier’ car.
Technical changes brought the MP4/2C closer to what Rosberg wanted, but he was unlucky with reliability – electrical and engine management issues cost him several podium positions, and he was heading for a possible win in Australia when a tyre delaminated. That was a race where he consummately demonstrated the fire that had made him such a hot property earlier in his career, grabbing the lead on lap 7 and holding it until lap 63, when his right-rear tyre let go.