After 206 starts, 23 wins, 30 pole positions and a Formula 1 world title, Nico Rosberg abruptly retired from the sport. Not even a week had elapsed since he became champion as he announced his shock decision at the end of 2016. And boy did he go out with a bang! He had just survived what he called “the most intense 55 laps of my career” to take a hugely emotional first title and at last achieved his childhood dream. And after eleven years in Formula 1, he decided “that’s it”.
You have to admire the resilience and tenacity Rosberg showed in 2016. He had gone up against one of the fastest there is, in Lewis Hamilton, and been defeated twice in succession. Perhaps most would have called it quits after that. But not Rosberg – He kept going, kept fighting, worked harder than ever in 2016. And it paid off. He refused to go quietly, never once backed down, and gave Hamilton plenty of headaches. This, is his career.
He joined Formula 1 in 2006 with Williams, and instantly made an impression. He scored two points on his debut in Bahrain, and set fastest lap. Against more experienced teammate Mark Webber, he fared well. However, things were tough for Williams that year. He scored just once through the rest of the season. This characterised the Williams spell of his career. The car was just not competitive enough to fight with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren, so that made any podium appearances Rosberg made even more remarkable.
Here is what the grid looked like when Rosberg joined F1. There are some real beasts in there:
His first two podiums did indeed come with Williams, the first being in Australia in 2008. He was third on that day as future teammate Hamilton took the victory. The second of the two was arguably one of his best ever drives, with second place in Singapore. He achieved this thanks to the safety car brought out by ‘that’ crash from Piquet Jr. Had the rather ridiculous ‘pitlane closed after SC deployment’ rule not been in place back then, he potentially could have won the race as well. He was after all in front of Alonso when the SC went in…
2009 was a season that could have given so much more. The FW31 was a decent car, but it never really lived up to its potential. A race win potentially went begging in Malaysia, and second place certainly went away in Singapore after a mistake at the pit exit. Ultimately, 2009 was to be Rosberg’s final season in blue and white. A deal almost came off with BMW Sauber, before BMW left the sport. That paved the way for him to join Brawn, which was about to become Mercedes. And he joined one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time…Michael Schumacher.
Mercedes hoped for big things in their comeback year, but it took a while for things to really get going. Rosberg comprehensively beat Schumacher in 2010, with 142 points to Schumacher’s 72. He also took three podiums and almost won the Chinese Grand Prix as well. 2011 was even tougher for the team, with neither driver taking to the podium, although they did come close again in China. That same place would be the scene of their first win next year.
It was Rosberg who took his and the team’s first win since the Silver Arrows returned, and it was a hugely emotional occasion, coupled with Rosberg’s first pole position the previous day. It had taken 111 starts, but he finally achieved it. Second place in Monaco was also to follow, but the Mercedes massively fell off the pace as the season went on. At the end of it, Schumacher retired, and Hamilton joined Rosberg. And we all know what happened next…
Rosberg added to his victory tally over the next three years, with three Monaco victories surely being the highlights. He showed the strengths of his one lap pace as well, adding 29 further pole positions to the one he took in 2012, and outclassed Hamilton in qualifying in 2014. However, he came up short in his world title quest during the first two years of the hybrid era. He bravely took it to the wire in Abu Dhabi 2014, only to be let down by his car that race. 2015 saw him outclassed by Hamilton, but three successive wins at the end of the year, after a bitter defeat in Austin, raised hope of a ‘new’ Rosberg in 2016.
Four successive wins gave Rosberg a massive head start in 2016. However, midseason saw Hamilton claw it back to take a 19 point advantage going into the summer break. But, a resurgent Rosberg took control of the championship again, with wins in Spa, Monza and Singapore, the last probably the greatest drive of his career. He extended that lead to 33 points after Suzuka, and only needed to be second in the last four races of the season to be champion. With the pressure on, he did just that, and his drive in Abu Dhabi, with pressure in front and behind, was a drive worthy of a world champion. It was no doubt the most satisfying and hard earned second place of his career.
With the title now his, Rosberg made the biggest decision of his career. On the 2nd of December, he announced he was to retire from Formula 1. His statement read as follows;
“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target.And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.
“This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fueled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between every race, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting our championship first.
When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening. After reflecting for a day, the first people I told were Vivian and Georg (Nolte, from Nico’s management team), followed by Toto.
“The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a tough situation. But Toto understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced and that reassured me. My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people,the Silver Arrows.
Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. There is time to savour the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me…”
And thus, an 11 year career, came to an end. Nico Rosberg’s childhood dream was to become Formula 1 World Champion. It took him a long time to achieve it, but he did it. He left as the number one, and at the absolute peak of his career. A gentlemen, a racer, a husband, a father…a champion. As he has said so many times after winning a race, “that’s it”. The F1 grid will be without an intense Mercedes rivalry in 2017. Danke schon Nico.