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Top Gear chats to Nico Rosberg

  1. A branch of behavioural learning theory encompasses a reflex response; a reaction to stimulus. Consider the curious example of Pavlov’s Dogs. Upon seeing stimuli associated with the serving of their meal, the dogs would drool, irrespective of whether there was any Pedigree Chum in sight.

    After spending just three minutes in the company of Nico Rosberg, I am convinced this man has been a student of the ‘conditioned reflex’. The stimulus in question is a 518bhp, V8-powered Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG saloon; the conditioned reaction is getting this near two-tonne weapon as fast and as sideways as possible, instantly.

    God, he’s quick.

    Words: Vijay Pattni

  2. We’re at Mercedes-Benz World in Surrey, and Nico has just strapped himself inside this Teutonic, M5-baiting missile, a car, don’t forget, capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. 516lb ft of torque helps, naturally. And as soon as I am convinced Nico is a student of classical conditioning, I become convinced that he wants to deploy these many torques in one, big, sideways go.

    For reasons I can’t be bothered to explain, a young man from Mercedes-Benz World has to ride shotgun, so I’m stuffed in behind Nico in the back. This young man - think Jeremy Freedman’s Squeaky Voiced Teen from The Simpsons - tells Mr Rosberg to ‘take it easy’ around the handling track. Nico’s swift riposte? “Turn everything to the maximum - traction control off, hardest suspension, all of it. Full.”

  3. Within minutes, he’s slinging the big lug around the track with the grace of a ballerina, making it squeal, slide and slalom. We head for the skid pan, where he demonstrates, with utter ease, how sideways a big, V8-powered Merc will go. “This drifting thing, it’s harder than it looks,” he says, with the Merc gliding pitch perfect. Yeah sure, Nico. Occasionally, he looks in the rear view mirror to check I’m not about to spontaneously empty my digestive tract onto his neck.

    Did I mention he’s quick?

  4. Of course, you don’t need us to tell you that. This is the man who scored nine victories in his single-seater debut in 2002, taking the Formula ADAC Championship and earning him a test in a Williams F1 car. At 17. The next year he moved to the Formula Three Euro Series with Team Rosberg (the racing outfit built by his dad, Keke), before signing a contract with Williams in 2006, where he enjoyed moderate success (a career best 2nd place at the Singapore GP in 2008).

  5. Then of course, he signed for Mercedes, the team built out of Jenson Button’s championship-winning team Brawn GP (itself built out of the ashes of the old Honda racing team by former Ferrari man Ross Brawn), and soon found out who his new teammate was: none other than seven-time Formula One world champion and not-the-Stig, Michael Schumacher.

  6. “I was happy when I heard Michael was my partner because it’s a good challenge to have a strong teammate,” he says, straight-faced and serious. “But at the same time I was a little bit concerned, because of Ross and Michael’s relationship and I didn’t really know what to expect.” Ross was Michael’s team boss when he was busy whupping the field at Ferrari.

    “Turns out I was very fortunate because Ross is a very straightforward guy,” he says, almost in relief.

  7. Not that you’d have thought Nico to be star-struck in the office. In 2010, his first year racing with Michael and Mercedes, he finished 7th in the driver’s championship and scored 142 points, two points shy of Felipe Massa, but a whopping 70 points clear of Schuey.

    Last year, Rosberg finished 7th again with 89 points, to Michael’s 8th placed finish of 76 points. That’s two years, and twice that the 26-year-old has outscored Schumacher.

    “It’s quite cool,” he says, on outpointing Michael. “I’m really happy about that achievement, naturally I’m pleased. It does go through my mind a little bit when I’m racing, but not so much,” he says, a light glimmer in his eye.

  8. Still, he’s going to have his work cut out again this year, trying to contain a multi-pronged assault from Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari; the targets for 2012 Nico has picked out. And when asked whether he looks up to any other driver on the field, his response is emphatic.

    “No, not really,” he muses. “I just want to do my own thing, optimise my own performance, optimise Nico Rosberg.” Despite referencing himself in the third person, its clear the young German is a deeply committed and steely-eyed racer. After all, who else would pick the 1980s as their favourite era of motor racing? The fiery decade of Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Alan Jones, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna, Jean Alesi and of course, his dad Keke.

  9. “The problem [with racing in the 80s] is the danger”, he shoots off quickly, to suggest he’s probably thought about this more than once. “Then again if you ask me as it was, I would say I’d race right now, but the cars themselves were better I think, in the 1980s.”

    His answers are measured and calm, even when - probably exhausted by the numerous times he’s been questioned on it - I ask him about his relationship with his dad. “He’s always been helping me out, earlier more than now, but it’s a very gradual thing. He’s very much in the background now, but he’s happy to help when I ask him.”

  10. Even when there are a legion of F1 soldiers ready to help him with his bidding? “People forget, it’s a big organisation around an F1 driver these days, so I could always use his support. There’s so much going on.”

    So much that, even Nico admits to being a tad frightened in this cutthroat business. “I do sometimes get a bit scared in F1, there are some moments,” he says, quietly contemplative. Not scared enough to stop him, mind. After all, this is a man who simply loves racing, and is acutely aware of his place in the sport, for example, when referencing DRS. “It’s really good, I’m a big fan of it because you know, for the spectators it’s made the races more exciting.

    “That’s all that really counts, isn’t it?”

    For more from Nico Rosberg, pick up the latest issue of Top Gear Magazine, out now

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