Nico Rosberg’s earliest memory of Formula One: “I was sleeping on the roof of a boat in the harbour in Monte Carlo — it must have been 1988. I remember being woken up on a Sunday morning by the sound of Ayrton Senna roaring out of the tunnel as they were doing warm-up.”
Fast-forward to 2014, and the low-pitched grumble of turbo-powered engines will be heard in Formula One for the first season since Rosberg was woken by Senna tearing through Monaco’s streets in 1988.
It is a season of immense change in which the Mercedes driver is considered one of the favourites, as he seeks to become the second son of a world champion to win the crown himself, after Damon Hill. In some quarters, he is favoured even more highly than his teammate, and long-time friend, Lewis Hamilton.
The dynamic with Hamilton will be one of the season’s most fascinating sub-plots.
Rosberg and Hamilton still maintain a large degree of the friendship first kindled when they were teammates in karting, aged 14. But Rosberg is honest enough to acknowledge a competitive edge that occasionally spills over.
“We’re not best friends, and we’re probably never going to be best friends just because it’s difficult in this industry, especially when you’re teammates, fighting for wins. We get in well, we have a laugh, neutral, very competitive. We even have some heated exchanges, but then afterwards it gets back to normal. That’s it.
“It was the same when we were young — it was so competitive between us. In the amount of pizzas we could eat, the wrestling matches in the hotel rooms, whatever it was. It’s the same today.”
Rosberg is wise enough to acknowledge that if, as expected, they are fighting at the front, maintaining their friendship will be difficult. “It will definitely be harder, yes. The more success we have, the tougher it is.”
Mercedes in 2013 were also not afraid of employing team orders, which never helps foster harmony. In Malaysia last year, while Red Bull were mired in their own controversy, as Sebastian Vettel ignored a direct order to pass Mark Webber for the lead, Rosberg was enduring his own frustration.
Unlike his compatriot, however, he obeyed the order to hold his position. After the chequered flag had fallen, he ominously told his team on the radio: “Remember this one.” There is a weariness in his voice when he is reminded of the controversy.
“Ah, this subject again. I’ve been through it so much. I just wanted to reiterate that I really was a team player, which is what the team wanted from me.
“I wanted to make sure that the team remembers what I did for the future, which they very much did.
“It all worked out well, and I would do exactly the same tomorrow if I had to do that decision, because in the end it’s a team sport. I need my team to do it together, and I respect my team, and their decisions.”
Fundamentally, however, whatever role team orders play in 2014 at Mercedes, this is the season for Rosberg to emerge from Vettel’s shadow, and to truly establish himself in the very highest echelons of the sport.