It takes quite a news story to stop the F1 world spinning mid-week. For the second time in 12 months, F1 fans were sent into a frenzy of discussion and debate without even having a race to watch. Max Verstappen replacing Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull seemed set to be 2016 biggest bombshell news story until Nico Rosberg raised the bar, announcing his retirement from F1 just days after clinching his maiden title in highly dramatic circumstances.
A news story with an extraordinary amount of layers that has sparked widespread debate. Here is my take on the decisions and resultant shockwaves that could shake F1 for a while to come…
Rosberg leaves the sport with quite a CV. 23 race wins, 57 podiums, 30 pole positions and his name on the World Drivers’ Championship trophy. That is a stunning career.
A career in which, for the most part, he was undervalued and undersold by the media. Being teammate to Lewis Hamilton inevitably means sacrificing column inches, but Rosberg seemed to face a constant battle to prove his talents.
Even before his head to head with Hamilton, Rosberg endured three years as Michael Schumacher’s teammate at Mercedes, in which his achievements seemed to always carry an asterisk against them, usually along the lines of; “yeah, but Schumacher is past his prime.”
While that may be true to an extent, Schumacher 5% down versus the peak of his powers is still a formidable opponent. Rosberg outperformed a seven time World Champion. The perfect preparation for what was to come against Lewis Hamilton.
The pair provided us fans with brilliant entertainment. Their title battles in 2014 and 2016 were titanic and Rosberg deserves enormous credit for his part. This season, as I noted in my article on his title success last week, he has been the better driver. His experience has shined through and while Hamilton was fluffing his lines at the start of races, Rosberg was commanding from the front.
This is precisely what we will now remember him for. His stunning performances in 2016 and eventual coronation as F1 World Champion in one the sport’s most dramatic finale’s EVER. It’s a fantastic legacy to leave.
Too many greats exit the sport clutching onto past glories because their final few seasons saw them pass the peak of their career mountain and begin the descent, for one reason or another. Sure, Jenson Button has been a great competitor this season, but his career has ended with a somewhat of a wimper driving a frustrating McLaren Honda.
It’s not the way that we want to see these gladiators end their careers, talking tales of former glories rather than lapping up the plaudits and performing doughnuts in their final race because of their final race result rather than one a decade previous.
Rosberg has avoided this trap, with a life-changing decision almost as brave as his overtake of Max Verstappen just over a week ago. He is turning his back on arguably the most successful team in F1 history and as such, the potential of adding more trophies to his cabinet and cashing in on more of the masterful work of Brackley and Brixworth’s magicians.
HOWEVER, here comes the intrigue.
In Rosberg’s retirement speech at the FIA Prize Giving, he stated, “I’m not interested in finishing fourth.” Maybe I’m reading too much into his wording, but I’m fascinated by this little line.
Mercedes don’t finish fourth. Assuming neither car runs into trouble, they will typically enjoy the sweet champagne that follows a one-two finish. Optimists, hoping for more competition in 2017, are suggesting that Mercedes will find their rivals forming much more potent opposition next season. Realists are expecting the Silver Arrows to be on top yet again.
Yet Rosberg seems far less convinced about next seasons machinery according to this comment. And he should know – it was going to be his car in which to defend his maiden title of course. Are Mercedes about to endure the same fate as Ferrari in 2005 or Red Bull in 2014? Has their era of dominance come to an end?
If it has, then Rosberg’s decision to bail out has been timed to perfection. Reading the politics, understanding the form and knowing when to leave is the mark of a champion and Nico Rosberg is just that.