Before Nico gets to work for this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix he takes time out to have a chat with Mika before they take to the streets in a very special AMG!
Mika Häkkinen was the first Mercedes-Benz world champion of the modern era, and a two-time title winner in 1998 and 1999 with McLaren Mercedes; Nico Rosberg is the first man to win a Grand Prix at the wheel of a Silver Arrow since the great Juan Manuel Fangio, in the third season of the return of the Silver Arrows. On the eve of the race around their home streets, the two men met to discuss their experiences as part of one of the most spectacular events in world sport.
“I don’t remember when we first met – maybe Mika does!” laughs Nico when the question comes.“Well, I started working with Keke at the end of 1987,” recalls Mika. “I think the first time we met must have been down here in Monaco in the early ‘90s. I was visiting Keke, and you were playing in your room! It’s possible I was his first sponsor in karting – do you remember that?”“Yeah, sure,” laughs Nico. “It was 1997, I was 11 years old and competing in the French go-karting championship. I had a poster in my room with all my sponsors on there, and one of them was you!”“My son is eleven now,” says Mika, picking up the thread. “I’m sure I did a contract with Keke that one day, when Nico will win races and be world champion, he has to start supporting my son Hugo!”
“Your first victory in Formula One always feels like it is a long time coming,” explains Mika.“And especially in my case – but when it arrives, the feeling is just amazing. But problems are part of life, and winning or losing, they don’t disappear. You need to keep understanding the cause of disappointments and where you and the team can improve. There is no point having your face upside down for one week – it’s better to pick up the phone, travel, see people, talk, organise yourself. Then you know that at the next event, you will be stronger – and if not the car, then yourself; you can always be better. Because the day when you have a car to win, you have to be ready. If not, it’s too late. I knew that one day I was going to win, it just took a long time.”
“I had exactly the same feeling – Ross, all the guys, kept telling me that the win would come, I just needed to stay patient and take my opportunity,” agrees Nico.“Of course, you get frustrated if it doesn’t go perfectly, but time takes that away and you keep going, follow the development, communicate constantly with the team.”“Nico did a perfect weekend in China and deserves full credit for that win,” emphasises Mika.“It was not depending on circumstances or luck, but purely on his hard work. As a Mercedes-Benz ambassador, it was great not only to watch his achievements, but to enjoy seeing Mercedes-Benz back on the top step of the podium.”
“I had some great victories in my career, but Monaco was something special,” remembers Mika.“I have lived here for 20 years and the thing you realise is that the people who work on the race track are also the people who live and work in Monaco – the police, the pompiers. In everyday life, these are the guys you see in the street and they say ‘hi’ as you walk past. To win in Monaco is like winning in your home streets, and you recognise faces all through the weekend.”“It’s home for me too, of course,” picks up Nico.“I’ve grown up here, all my friends are here and my family, I know everybody and it’s very special to race here. Mentally, it’s quite a demanding weekend. You have a lot going on, a lot of PR events and appointments. Plus on track, too, it’s a bit more intense – but not so much. You need to be super concentrated at every circuit.”“That’s true. But what changed for me was that, when I got a car that I would win races with, Monaco became more important for some reason. When you are hunting pole position in Monaco, your mind changes; you put yourself in a higher power, even though you think you are doing it already. When you are fighting for P11 or P12, you always think you are doing your maximum. But when I started fighting for pole, it just happened that I was working even harder to reach my goal – but not purposely. And of course, we changed the car, too: the steering lock, and the seating position to sit higher in the car, because the aero was not so important and we wanted to see the Armco properly.”“That’s interesting, because we definitely make changes, too,” says Nico. “But I don’t think it’s common practice, even today.”