Keke Rosberg’s racing career was borne from a failed ambition to study dentistry at Helsinki University. When he was denied a place, his thoughts turned elsewhere, and having been karting for a number of years that became his main focus.
After switching to Formula Vee in 1972, stints in Formula Atlantic and Formula Pacific followed before he graduated to Formula 2, and subsequently Formula 1 where he made his debut for Formula 1 minnows Theodore in the 1978 South African Grand Prix at the (relatively late for Formula 1) age of 29.
Rosberg impressed with drives in the Theodore and ATS cars he drove in 1978, notably in the International Trophy Meeting at Silverstone where, in the wet, he held off a strong field containing Andretti, Lauda and Peterson to win, beating Emerson Fittipaldi into second place.
1979 passed without much success: Rosberg had signed for Wolf Racing in the twilight of their Formula 1 sojourn and on the brink of insolvency weren’t able to give Rosberg the car his talents deserved.
Emerson Fittipaldi bought what remained of the team, but his big money sponsorship deal with Copersucar had expired and he too was unable to engineer much success, a third place for Rosberg in the Argentine Grand Prix of 1980 being the highlight.
But Rosberg had done enough to garner the interest of Williams who were on the lookout for talent to replace retiring 1980 World Champion Alan Jones for 1982.
Consistency was the key to his World Drivers Championship in 1982, taking a single race win in a season of turmoil where huge accidents resulted in the deaths of Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve, and young Osella driver Riccardo Paletti, and the end of Didier Pironi’s career, and Williams’ second driver Argentine Carlos Reutemann choosing to resign from his British employer mid-season under the cloud of the Falklands war.
Another single win followed in 1983 when Williams were hamstrung by their naturally aspirated Ford Cosworth engines, in their competition with Renault, Ferrari and Brabham, all of whom had developed and mastered significantly more powerful turbo engines.
A switch to Honda-turbos for 1984 brought Williams up to speed with the competition, but unfortunately for Rosberg, the Williams FW09 chassis coped miserably with the power outputted by the new power units and another tough season ensued. Despite this, Rosberg was able to add another win to his tally in Dallas, but he ultimately finished the season in a disappointing eighth place in the championship.
1985 was to prove more enjoyable for Rosberg. Despite having reservations about his soon-to-be teammate Nigel Mansell, asking to be released from his contract(!), they quickly bonded and a harmonious relationship ensued throughout his final season with the team.
The carbon-fibre Williams FW10 was a much more robust chassis, and helped deliver the power from the Honda turbo much more sympathetically, with vastly improved handling a result. Rosberg was able to take it to two wins, a couple of pole positions and in qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the fastest ever lap of a grand prix circuit at a whopping average speed of 160.9mph.
He finished the season with consecutive fourth, third, second then first place finishes, and headed off to McLaren for his final season in Formula 1.
Partnered by Alain Prost at McLaren, Rosberg found it difficult to overcome the World Champion and clear team-leader, and exacerbated by his difficulty in setting up the car to his liking he sailed into retirement (he’d later admit ‘too soon’) without adding to his five wins he scored with Williams.