A draining, twisting season, a nerve-shredding finale, and his shock decision to retire made Nico Rosberg’s Formula 1 World Championship a memorable one.
“I want to take the opportunity to announce that I have decided to end my Formula 1 career.”
With those words, uttered unprompted at the start of what everyone thought would be the usual “I’d like to thank…” Formula 1 World Champion’s press conference, Nico Rosberg dropped his bombshell.
The venue was the 2016 FIA Prize Giving in Vienna, just five days after the season-ending, title clinching Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but Rosberg had been thinking about it even before he clinched racing’s ultimate prize.
At the age of just 31 and with another two, very lucrative years on the Mercedes contract he’d only signed a few months earlier, he quit on top.
This isn’t something first-time world champions normally do, but Rosberg has never been a conventional kind of grand prix driver. And for that reason, he’s proved divisive. After he clinched the title with a remarkable drive under intense pressure at the Yas Marina finale, debates raged between those who argue that he lucked in at the expense of teammate Lewis Hamilton, and those who believe him to be a worthy world champion.
Rosberg’s subsequent mic-drop moment stoked the fires of that debate. Again, the fans were polarized: had he done the near-impossible and quit on top with his head held high, or walked away because he realized he could never hope to scale those same heights again?
First of all, let’s set aside any suspicions about Rosberg’s motivations for quitting. He spoke eloquently during the Vienna press conference about his reasons and, when talking about his wife, Vivian, and 15-month-old daughter, Alaia, came close to breaking down. Only the most callous would suggest he wasn’t sincere when he talked about the toll the 2016 season had taken on his home life, and of his desire to do what most could only dream of: dedicate himself to his family without any financial concerns, having conquered the world.
The only thing those in the anti-Rosberg camp can legitimately claim is that this is symptomatic of how deep he had to dig to close out the title carrying what he described as “lead weights” from his shoulders in the final races of the year. But that’s the nature of elite sport, and Hamilton has apparently sent enough messages to his engineers at unusual times of the day to prove that he dedicates plenty of his spare time to thinking and working on his crafts.
Rosberg also spoke of the other loads – the extra karting to stay sharp; the mental training – that he carried through the year. And he was absolutely frank that, having achieved his ambition, he had no interest in repeating the effort. At worst, that only disqualifies him from the ranks of the greatest of the great, of those capable of scaling the peak time and time again.
In that context, his retirement was dignified, a man quitting while he was ahead in the best possible sense of the word. Having achieved his ultimate goal, Rosberg has other things in his life and now has the time and space for them. Perhaps the sad fate of his old friend and teammate, Michael Schumacher, will have made him realize the importance of that.
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