Keke Rosberg, the 1982 Formula One World Champion, was the first Finnish driver to compete regularly in Formula One and the first F1 champion from this Nordic country.
He was active in Formula One from 1978 to 1986, recording 114 starts with six teams. He won five races and the championship title in 1982, while he was driving for Williams. In the post-F1 career, he was active in the DTM until 1995.
Relatively late start of a career
Keijo Erik Rosberg was born in December 1948 in Sweden, but he was raised in Northern Finland. He had a relatively late start to his racing career; he began at the age of 24 in the Finnish Formula Vee. From 1976 to 1978, he competed in the Formula Two, Formula Atlantic and Formula Pacific, which were the feeder series for Formula One.
Keke Rosberg’s first F1 car was a #32 Theodore TF1
Five different cars in maiden Formula 1 season
Keke debuted in the F1 Championship at the 1978 South African Grand Prix with the Hong Kong based Theodore Racing Team, but retired after 15 laps. He failed to qualify in the next four races and decided to move to the ATS Racing Team. He finished three races in their car before returning to Theodore Racing, after the team acquired the chassis from Wolf. In the last two races of the season, he was again at the wheel of an ATS Team's car, so in total, Keke Rosberg changed five different cars during his maiden F1 season.
In 1979, Keke Rosberg mostly competed in the SCCA Can-Am Challenge for Newman-Freeman Racing. In F1, he competed in seven Grand Prix races with three different Wolf Racing's cars. He finished only one race, the French Grand Prix at Dijon.
In 1980 and 1981, Keke Rosberg was driving for Fittipaldi Automotive
First Formula 1 podium with Fittipaldi's team
In 1980, Rosberg moved to Fittipaldi Automotive, which had bought the remains of Walter Wolf's squad. In a Cosworth-powered car, Keke scored his first podium – third place at the Argentine Grand Prix, which was the opening round of the season.
That was the highlight of the year; after that, he retired four times and his best result was a 5th place in the Italian Grand Prix. The 1981 season proved to be quite disappointing, with six retirements and five races in which he didn't even manage to qualify.
But all that was about to change, and how! In 1982, Rosberg surprised everyone by clinching the world title. Despite his previous bad record, he was hired by Frank Williams as a replacement for the retiring champ Alan Jones. With a competitive car, Rosberg scored five podium places and one victory at the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix held in France's Dijon.
Keke Rosberg won the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix ahead of Alain Prost and Niki Lauda
Winning a Formula One Championship with only one victory?
It was a very unusual season with 11 race winners and no one winning more than two times; Rosberg's only victory was enough for the championship trophy. He came ahead of Ferrari's Didier Pironi and McLaren's John Watson. Rosberg triumphed with FW07C and FW08 cars equipped with normally-aspirated Cosworth V8 engines, against the more powerful turbo engine of the main rivaling teams.
Rosberg raced three more seasons with Williams. In 1983 and 1984, he won one race each year, but the most successful season was that of 1985. He won at the Detroit Grand Prix and Australian Grand Prix, scored three more podiums and finished 3rd in the championship, behind McLaren's Alain Prost and Ferrari's Michele Alboreto.
In 1985 with Honda-powered Williams FW10, Robserg won two races and finished 3rd in the championship
Rosberg joined McLaren in 1986
At the end of 1985, Rosberg decided to leave Williams and joined McLaren, the team which had won both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles in 1984 and 1985. However, his luck soon changed and McLaren wasn't as dominating as before. Rosberg's teammate Alain Prost had a great season and won the championship, while Rosberg retired eight times and scored only one podium, finishing 6th.
Retired after death of his close friend
The season was marked by the death of Elio de Angelis, who was killed in a testing crash at the Circuit Paul Ricard. Keke Rosberg and De Angelis were close friends and Keke was deeply affected by his loss, so he decided to retire at the end of season.
Rosberg reemerged on the racing circuit in 1989 with Moneytron's Ferrari Mondial at the 24 Hours of Spa. After that, he was a part of the 1990 and 1991 Peugeot team in the World SportsCar Championship. He scored two victories with Peugeot 905 and retired in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Keke Rosberg (last on the right) was a part of Mercedes’ DTM team from 1992 to 1994
Manager of Finnish F1 stars
From 1992 to 1995, Rosberg competed in DTM, initially with Mercedes and three seasons with Opel. In 1995, he formed his own team and raced an Opel Calibra V6 in DTM and International Touring Car Championship. At the end of 1995, he finally withdrew from racing and focused on running the team.
The Rosberg Team is still active, racing Audis in DTM. Keke Rosberg was also known as a mentor and manager of two more Finnish F1 drivers: JJ Lehto and Mika Häkkinen, but in the last ten years he has mostly been talked about as the father of Formula 1 star Nico Rosberg, who won F1 title in 2016.
Keke and Nico Rosberg at the start of Nico’s F1 career