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Photograph Copyright: © Paul Kooyman

Driver Management

Guiding Future Champions

After retiring from Formula 1 in 1986 Keke initially stopped competing in all forms of racing. However he still remained connected to the racing world through his guidance and management of young drivers, especially of young Finnish drivers.

 

Throughout his entire career Keke had needed to do deals and make money just so he could continue to go racing. Networking through company sponsorship, driving for teams and representing manufacturers gave Keke a strong understanding of the importance of building connections so you can progress in motorsport. Doing this alongside a racing career requires a great deal of time and effort. Although it was something Keke found easy during his career, it is often something that drivers struggle to do without it impacting on their racing.

 

Excelling in these managerial skills and having a wide network of motorsport connections made driver management an obvious future business opportunity. Understanding the politics, people and money involved with motorsport, in particular F1,  gave all the drivers Keke nurtured a distinct advantage in all their negotiations.

 

After Hakkinen's F1 retirement and helping Nico to establish himself in Formula 1, Keke moved away from driver management and instead focused all of his time on Team Rosberg.  

JJ Lehto

Managed from 1986 to (approx) 2005

Jyrki Juhani Järvilehto was born in Espoo, Finland on 31st January 1966. He would become better known by the easier to pronounce JJ Lehto after a suggestion by Keke. 

 

After starting in karting he progressed into regional Formula Ford, winning national competitions and the Scandinavian Championship in 1986. It was at this point that Keke made contact and began managing the young driver.

 

In a 2017 interview with Motorsport magazine JJ Lehto would tell how he first met Keke: "Hi, this is Keke Rosberg... he [Keke] said his career was winding down and he wanted to help someone else. So me and my father met him in Helsinki and he got me into the Philip Morris/Marlboro programme".

After joining the Marlboro programme and hiring Keke Rosberg as manager, JJ Lehto moved into Formula Ford 2000 for 1987. He would then progress into British F3 for 1988 and Formula 3000 in 1989. Success in all these categories would see JJ make his debut in F1 in 1989 with Onyx. Racing for a series of poor cars meant results were difficult but he was able to score a 3rd place at Imola in 1991. More promising drives with Sauber in 1993 led to an exciting move to Benetton for 1994 but a serious testing accident forced him to leave F1 at the end of 1994. 

 

Racing in DTM would follow but it was endurance racing that would see Lehto's most successful period in motorsport. Highlights would include winning Le Mans outright in 1995 and 2005, as well as multiple American endurance race wins including at Sebring. After 2005 JJ would decide to retire from all racing.

Mika Hakkinen

Managed from 1987 to 2002

Mika Hakkinen was born in Vantaa, Finland on 28th September 1968. Starting a career in Karting at the age of just 5, Mika would become very successful winning multiple races and championships. Whilst competing in the 1986 FK 100cc A-class series he would first meet Keke Rosberg at the Jesolo round of the championship in Italy.

 

Mika would move into Formula Ford in 1987, winning multiple titles and was invited to take part in the Formula Ford 2000 Marlboro test-day that October. After impressing the judging panel Mika was accepted on to the Marlboro World Championship Team, also impressing his future boss Ron Dennis. After receiving the approval from Marlboro, Keke became Mika's manager in 1987.

Racing in the Vauxhall/Opel-Lotus Challenge in 1988 followed, as well as British F3 in 1989 and 1990. His performance in these series meant Keke was able to get a seat for Mika at Team Lotus for the 1991 F1 season. Two years spent with Lotus were productive and showed Mika's potential in a solid if generally slow car.

 

For the 1993 season Keke was able to negotiate a deal first for Mika to go to Williams. This was later cancelled due to issues involving Lotus refusing to agree Williams' late registration for the 1993 season unless Mika's deal was cancelled. Aware of the potential that Senna may quit McLaren and with his good connections with Ron Dennis, Keke was able to get a seat for Mika with McLaren. Eventually Senna did decide to race for McLaren in 1993 but Michael Andretti quit before the end of the season and Mika made his debut in Portugal, amazingly out-qualifying Senna in his first race.

Mika would continue to drive for McLaren for many years, winning multiple races and both the 1998 and 1999 F1 World Drivers World Championships with the team. After the 2001 season Mika decided to take a sabbatical from F1 although he made this a permanent retirement during 2002. It was at this point he and Keke decided to end their management arrangement. Mika did return to racing in 2005 to contest DTM, completing 3 season before he permanently ended his motor racing career.

In a 2020 podcast with Unibet Finland, Mika admitted how useful Keke had been to his F1 career: "Without Keke I don't think I would be in F1, because Keke had his connections, his network...".

Nico Rosberg

Managed from 1991 to (approx) 2006

Nico Rosberg was born on 27th June 1985, in Wiesbaden, Germany. He began Karting at the age of six and competitively at age 10. His strong mindset and determination to become a racing driver meant he had plenty of early success and was enough to convince his father to manage him. Keke never discouraged Nico's career choice, but insisted he maintained good grades at school. 

After Karting, further success would follow in Formula BMW ADAC with Nico winning the 2002 title and earning a test at the Williams F1 team. A couple of seasons in F3, supported by his father with Team Rosberg followed before a move into the new GP2 Drivers Championship for 2005. Nico would dominate the championship and win the title that year. At the same time Nico was serving as test driver for Williams and studying towards a place to study aeronautical engineering at Imperial College in London. After impressing Williams, Nico turned down the university place and was signed as a Williams F1 driver for 2006.

With his son now in Formula 1, Keke stopped day-to-day management of Nico and focused on supporting Nico avidly from a far, giving Nico the space he needed. After 4 seasons with Williams with two podiums to his name, Nico moved to the new Mercedes F1 team for 2010. This would become a very profitable time for the young Rosberg, winning 23 grand prix and the 2016 F1 World Drivers Championship. At the end of 2016 Nico retired from all motor racing driving having matched his father's achievement of becoming F1 World Champion.

Find out more about Nico Rosberg.