Why Lewis can't crack Nico's sisu
A confession: I've always been a bit of Nico Rosberg fan.
Now I'm well aware that the principles of journalistic impartiality forbid any such allegiance, but I would counter that when you work in a sport that was once your private passion and is now your way of life, it's essential to be able to remember what it was that once drew you towards it. And it's here that Nico plays his trump card: his dad, Keke, was the first F1 driver who really caught my eye as a star-struck teenager. And given those indelible memories of a Williams-Honda FW10 driven furiously throughout 1985 (with an equally feisty Nigel Mansell as team-mate - dear god, what a line-up!) it's little wonder that the exploits of his offspring, this month's cover star, would be of interest.
The first thing that struck me about Nico, when I was introduced to him at Williams' Grove HQ in early 2006, was just how bright he was. F1 drivers tend to be pretty smart cookies, but this one - phew! Four languages, an academic career in engineering lined up had the racing not worked out, and a sense that he was constantly, coolly, assessing the environment around him. And he's always been quick. In his first race there was a fastest lap; in his second he put his FW28 third on the grid. He beat team-mate Michael Schumacher to Mercedes' first 'works' win of the modern era; and he set 11 pole positions last season.
Allied to this there has always been a strong sense that Nico was a bit of a fighter. While his in-car style may lack some of his father's throttle-jockey flamboyance, and while Nico's chosen nationality is German (he's of mixed German-Finnish parentage, so holds dual nationality), there's plenty of Finnish sisu in his blood. This word doesn't translate directly into English, but it's seen as one of the defining aspects of the Finnish national character: bravery, stoicism, determination, resilience. 'Fighting spirit', if you like.
It was clearly in evidence at the conclusion of last year's Abu Dhabi championship showdown, when Rosberg refused to retire his car, despite an ERS failure and creeping electrical gremlins that dropped him out of the points. But he'd insisted to his crew "I want to go to the end", and it's my sneaking suspicion that he'll do just that this year.
As you can read in this month's cover story (p38) he and Lewis Hamilton are incredibly closely matched, and while Lewis unquestionably has the edge (at time of writing, pre-Italian GP, he leads the championship with 227 points to Rosberg's 199) Nico is the man Hamilton just can't put down and it would be no injustice if he did find a way to beat Lewis to the 2015 world title.
Have we just made Hamilton champion-elect? Indeed so, and if he does beat Rosberg to take title number three this year, that would make him only the second Briton, after Sir Jackie Stewart, to have done so.
And where might that achievement place him in a top-ten of British champions? You'll have to turn to page 52 to find out...