F1 Legend

Keke Rosberg

Finnish

  • Solna, Sweden Place of Birth
  • 6 December 1948 Date of Birth
  • 1978 South African Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • McLaren Current/Last Team

The original Flying Finn, Keke Rosberg, arrived late to Formula One. He had spent a dozen years racing around the world in various series. Although his name isn’t near the top in Grand Prix victories, Keke Rosberg ranks among the highest in the category of those who looked as fast as they drove. He is also the father of Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula One World Champion.

NationalityFinnish
BornKeijo Erik Rosberg
6 December 1948
Solna, Sweden

Keijo Erik Rosberg, who later called himself Keke for media convenience, was born in Solna, Sweden, on December 6, 1948, to Finnish parents who were students at the time. Upon returning to Finland, his father became a veterinarian and his mother a chemist, both competing in rallies. Little Keijo’s first driving experience was a mishap; he turned on the ignition of the family car and smashed it into the garage door. Despite this, he soon took to karting and by his teens had become an accomplished kart racer.

Initially aiming to be a dentist or computer programmer, his career path veered towards motorsport. Keke became a five-time Finnish kart champion and in 1973, he won both the Scandinavian and European titles. He moved up to Formula Vee and Super Vee, winning ten of the 21 races he entered in 1975. By 1978, he was competing in 41 races over 36 weekends on five continents. Driving for American entrant Fred Opert, he finished fifth in the European Formula Two championship, second in the North American Formula Atlantic series, and first in the Formula Pacific series.

Abandoning all plans for a conventional career, Keke’s passport listed his job as “racing driver.” From his first race, he never spent his own money on the sport and often showed a profit. He developed a “bread and butter theory,” earning from racing and marketing himself to sponsors, selling space on his suit and car, and performing various promotional duties.

Despite his financial savvy, Keke struggled to secure a competitive Formula One ride. His debut in 1978 was in an ill-handling and underpowered Theodore, which he described as “an absolute pig of a car.” He continued to drive for uncompetitive teams like ATS, Wolf, and Fittipaldi, earning similar faint praise for their machinery.

By the time Keke was 33, his Formula One career seemed to be going nowhere, even as his lifestyle improved with a Lear jet, a Munich penthouse, a country mansion in England, a chalet in Austria, and a villa in Ibiza. The low point came in 1981 when the Fittipaldi team’s money ran out, and it seemed Keke would be a Formula One has-been who never really was.

However, when 1980 champion Alan Jones retired unexpectedly, Frank Williams had to hire the only competent driver available: Keke Rosberg. Seizing the opportunity, Keke won the 1982 World Championship for Williams despite only one Grand Prix win (at Dijon in France). He drove every lap “absolutely flat out,” and in 1983, with a normally aspirated Cosworth engine against turbo-powered cars, he drove even harder, refusing to accept defeat.

Keke’s aggressive driving style and compelling personality made him a noteworthy driver. His sensational pole lap for the 1985 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where he averaged 160 mph, was one of the most exciting in Formula One history.

Despite his success, Keke’s all-out approach took a toll. He acknowledged that his driving style was more wearing compared to champions like Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. After moving from Williams to McLaren for the 1986 season, he retired from Formula One but continued racing in sportscars and touring cars. He also ran his own teams and became a successful driver manager, mentoring champions like Mika Hakkinen and his son Nico Rosberg.

Keke managed Nico’s early career and, with a paternal interest, stepped back to let him fend for himself. He continued to offer advice, sending Nico inspirational messages: “Pedal to the metal! Push!” When Nico won the 2016 World Championship, 34 years after Keke, they celebrated together tearfully. “Yes, we’re emotional because to us it’s a family sport,” Keke said. “Nico knows what it means to me and to him.”

Keke Rosberg Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1978–1986
TeamsTheodore, ATS, Wolf, Fittipaldi, Williams, McLaren
EnginesFord, Honda, TAG
Entries128 (114 starts)
Championships1 (1982)
Wins5
Podiums17
Career points159.5
Pole positions5
Fastest laps3
First entry1978 South African Grand Prix
First win1982 Swiss Grand Prix
Last win1985 Australian Grand Prix
Last entry1986 Australian Grand Prix

Source: Formula1.com and Wikipedia.com

Teammates

Driver Nationality Current/Last Team F1 Debut Status
Brazilian Fittipaldi 1970 British Grand Prix F1 Legend
Argentine Williams 1972 Argentine Grand Prix Died
American Ferrari 1968 United States Grand Prix F1 Legend
French Williams 1974 German Grand Prix Retired
British McLaren 1980 Austrian Grand Prix F1 Legend
French Williams 1980 Argentine Grand Prix F1 Legend

Teams

Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Theodore Hong Kong 1977 Historic
ATS German 1977 Historic
Wolf Canadian 1977 Historic
Fittipaldi Brazilian 1975 Historic
Williams British 1978 Current
McLaren British 1966 Current