Role play. Nico Rosberg and Martin Kaymer swapped jobs for a day.
The winning gene.
One earns a living around the greens and fairways, wearing neatly pressed slacks and monitoring every movement. The other sits just inches from a 1,000 hp engine in a fireproof suit, trusting his reflexes. You may be forgiven for thinking there is little that links the worlds of professional golfer Martin Kaymer and Formula 1 driver Nico Rosberg. But as elite sportsmen they have one thing in common: the winning gene, that bit of DNA that makes losing – whatever the competition – not an option. So when Rosberg and Kaymer, both 30, were matched in the first Mercedes-Benz Stars Challenge, they needed no extra motivation. This would be a challenge match featuring the wheel and the golf ball, pitting racing driver against golfer on unfamiliar sporting terrain. And all to decide who will be crowned Mercedes Star 2015. “This could be really close,” whispers Rosberg ahead of the first challenge at the Mercedes-Benz World Handling Track in Weybridge, south of London. “It’s going to be really interesting to see who’s best – him in the car or me on the golf course.”
We both deal in fractions of an inch.
1st challenge: Time Trial in a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT
To make the race in the 375 kW Mercedes-AMG GT as open as possible, Kaymer has a flying start, while Rosberg will start from a standstill. The former world number one golfer reckons he’s a pretty good driver: “At least, I’ve never had an accident.” Sure enough, Kaymer looks quick on his practice lap, and as he crosses the line the clock starts ticking. With no major errors, he takes the flag in 43:34 seconds. “I didn’t have the confidence to accelerate through the turns,” admits Kaymer. Next it’s Rosberg’s turn to gun the engine. Currently second in the F1 drivers’ championship, he hits the kickstarter and accelerates towards the first turn with a squeal of the tires. It is clear he is determined to claw back his starting deficit. But then comes the first surprise of the contest: Rosberg is precisely 23 hundredths of a second slower. “That’s going to spoil my day,” says Rosberg with a grin. He wants to get even, this time on the golf course.
2nd challenge: Nearest the Pin
Just a few minutes’ drive away is one of England’s most attractive golf courses: St George’s Hill. Rosberg has ten golf balls which he has to hit as close as possible to the second hole from a distance of 50 yards. This time things are a little trickier for Kaymer, who has just three attempts to pitch from a distance of 150 yards. Rosberg goes first. His swing is elegant, the ball traces a high arc to the green. You wouldn’t think he plays off a handicap of 34. He has been playing golf for a very long time, he explains – “but only once every three years.” The fourth shot is his best. He follows it intently, inquiring: “Was that a hole-in-one?” Not quite. The ball stops less than 3 feet from the hole. “Big shot!” shouts Kaymer, and prepares for his first attempt. “I’m really curious to see his swing,” says Rosberg. Kaymer takes out a 9 iron. A moment of concentration, a smooth backswing, a gentle whoosh, and grass flies through the air.
“Be right, be right” urges the golf pro, “sit down!” But after two more attempts he is forced to concede: “Not good enough! I can see from here that Nico is closer.” High fives all round, the contest now stands 1:1.
3rd challenge: The Simulator
Kaymer wins on the track, Rosberg on the green – perhaps golf and motorsports have more in common than meets the eye. The two professional sportsmen themselves certainly have much in common. Both are reserved in nature. And Kaymer recognizes other parallels: “When it comes to pushing a putt past the hole or a slight oversteer on cornering, we both deal in fractions of an inch – and that requires a steady hand.” It’s something they’ll need for the third challenge featuring the Formula 1 simulator at Mercedes-Benz World. Kaymer sits in a replica racing car, with three monitors in front of him showing the Silverstone circuit. The challenge: to drive a single lap as fast as possible. “It’s going to be much harder to beat me here than on the tarmac,” says Rosberg. “How often does Martin sit in the simulator?” Sure enough, Kaymer spins on the very first turn. Two turns later, he slides across the grass and narrowly avoids crashing out. Rosberg offers some advice: “Martin, never brake more than 150 yards before the turn!” Kaymer’s final lap time is 2 minutes 40 seconds. Rosberg agrees to start with a handicap of 30 seconds on the clock. The lights turn green, and with traction control switched off, Rosberg also slides off the track at the first turn. But the rest of the lap is faultless. Even with those extra seconds, the racing pro comes home in 1 minute 59 seconds, well ahead of Kaymer’s time. The defeated golfer lets out a groan: “Not fair!” Rosberg now leads 2:1.
4th challenge: Putting
Back to the second green at St. George’s Hill, where dozens of golfers have interrupted their game to watch. The ball lies eight yards from the pin, Rosberg gets ten attempts to hole out, whereas Kaymer only has three. The two-time Major winner also has to wear a blindfold! Three of Rosberg’s balls come very close. A murmur runs through the crowd. Kaymer feels the pressure mounting but stays relaxed. “Putting blind is a good exercise for me, I often do it in practice.” What follows is a champagne moment in the Stars challenge. Kaymer bends over his putter to hit his second ball. He strikes it, the ball rolls, slowly at first, turns in a gentle arc, then suddenly disappears eight yards away. Plop! Kaymer raises his arms as if he had just won a Major: “Yeah!” Rosberg closes his eyes and sighs: “Unbelievable!” 2:2 – it’s down to a play-off to decide the winner.
Finale: Ground Control.
On part of the third fairway, cones mark out a slalom course in the short grass. At the startfinish line are two 1:18 scale models of the G 63 AMG 6×6. Rosberg and Kaymer have to steer the cross-country vehicles by remote control. “Let’s see how steady your hand really is,” Rosberg whispers to his opponent. The golf pro stretches out both hands – steady as a rock. Later that evening, Rosberg would sum up the day as “a duel between two competitive animals, neither of whom will concede an inch.” So who ended up Mercedes-Benz Star 2015? Well, you’ll have to visit the Mercedes-Benz Golf Facebook page to see all of the challenges, including how the dramatic decider unfolded! Videos of the challenge are coming soon at the same location.