It was the news that sent seismic waves across motorsport. Nico Rosberg retires from Formula 1, despite having one of the two most coveted seats in all of racing at his feet. Rosberg will be the first driver to retire from Formula 1 as the reigning World Champion since Alain Prost at the end of 1993, and will be just the seventh driver (Juan Manuel Fangio – 1952 due to injury, Mike Hawthorn – 1959 due to retirement, Jochen Rindt – 1971 due to his death, Jackie Stewart – 1974 due to retirement, Nigel Mansell – 1993 due to competing in the Champ Car series which he won and Prost in 1994 as mentioned) to not return the following season after winning the previous crown. Rosberg, like his father Keke Rosberg, will not go down as the greatest of all time, but as a fighter who achieved his ultimate goal.
Rosberg perhaps did not get the credit he deserved during his Formula 1 career. He entered the sport at a young age for the time, off the back of winning the inaugural GP2 series championship. The only team mate he would end up failing to beat in terms of points in a season across his F1 career would be Mark Webber, who partnered him for his rookie campaign.
Rosberg matched up well against Alex Wurz in their one season together at Williams, absolutely thwarted Kaz Nakajima in 2009, and stunned everybody in Formula 1 by outperforming the great Michael Schumacher in three years at the revamped Mercedes team. Rosberg has been such a loyal servant to Mercedes, by delivering them their first podium, pole position and race win since their return to racing as a constructor. In return, Mercedes has given Rosberg three of the most dominant Formula One cars in history.
Whilst Rosberg was certainly not as quick as Lewis Hamilton across their four seasons together, he certainly gave him a very good run for his money, in all of their years together. On his day, Rosberg was able to produce performances which were very worthy of the title of World Champion, and at what turned out to be the end of his career; he was producing those drives more often than not.
Of Rosberg’s many victories over the past five years, his penultimate victory at the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix will likely go down as his finest. And whilst Rosberg was not always known for his ‘killer instinct’ on the track, his final overtake in Formula 1 – on Max Verstappen, the hardest defender of all – will probably go down as his greatest and most significant. He will go down, like his father before him, as a driver who seemed to absolutely thrive on street circuits.
Rosberg deserves a lot more respect for his performances and his achievements than he seems to get. He came across as the ‘pantomime villain’ somewhat unnecessarily from one broadcaster in the UK in particular, and in an era of social media, had some very nasty jibes sent towards him. Even after announcing his retirement, he has been called a ‘coward’ by some, which is totally unnecessary. Some of the hate spewed in his direction for things said or done by Mercedes during his time at the front of the field was also completely uncalled for.
This is totally baffling, as Rosberg has gone down as one of the most gracious championship contenders ever seen in Formula 1. The humility shown after his title defeat in 2014 where he admitted that the other guy simply “did a better job” was the act of a great person. Almost any act by Rosberg was seen as an act of “dirty tactics” by some, with no real justification of that. In fact, at what will go down as one of the most tense title deciders in history, it was his rival who used the “dirty tactics” to try and win the championship.
To call it a day at the absolute pinnacle of what is possible to achieve in motor racing is a very gutsy move indeed, and the move has well and truly split opinion up and down the world of Formula 1. To put his family and friends (who must have made so many sacrifices over these years) first when in the limelight of the sporting world must have been a difficult decision to make. But alas, he has decided that the title of ‘x-time World Champion’ is no more significant than the title of ‘World Champion’ in his eyes.
Mercedes now have a real headache, and need to fill in some rather large shoes. Pretty much every driver in motor racing has been linked with a move to the Brackley-based team, but it would be very surprising if it did not go to Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon or the favourite – Pascal Wehrlein.
This news will come as a huge shock to Rosberg’s legion of fans, of which there are many. To have a driver leave so suddenly like that will be hard to take for some, especially as it would appear unlikely that he will be hanging around the paddock very much next year. However, maybe in a few years from now, Rosberg will consider making a return to motorsport.