World Champion Nico Rosberg called time on his F1 career at the FIA Prize Giving Ceremony in Vienna today, sending shockwaves through the sport and speculation to spiral.
Let me off at the top
As the press took their seats to document Nico Rosberg’s commentary on his 2016 world championship, it is doubtful any of them would have expected a statement of such magnitude that has had journalists the world over scrambling to scribble down their thoughts as our sport’s newest champion announced that he will not be mounting a defence of his crown.
In the hours and days following the fall of the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg has intimated that the past twelve months have been the most intense and exhausting of his life. As he explained in Friday’s press conference, his coronation as world champion is the culmination of twenty-five years of toil and dedication and now he has achieved his childhood dream he can leave as a man at peace, content with his achievements.
Nico clearly explained the motivation for his departure. Taking the title in his view is the last page in his F1 story, but the family man also cited wanting to make the most of his time with his wife and daughter as another. The dedication and commitment required to compete at the top level of motorsport is unparalleled, and he is not willing to do that again when he has the life of his dreams waiting for him beyond the paddock. Formula One may be saying auf wiedersehen to a top-level driver, but our loss is Vivian and Alaia’s gain and there is no better reason than these two to step away from the fold.
A breathless season takes its toll
The 2016 season has been one in which Nico Rosberg has not only had to deliver the performances and the form of his life, but also one in which he has been forced to baton down the hatches and give his all to overcome its immense psychological challenges posed by his team-mate and the world’s media.
Blow after blow, he has faced a barrage of on-track assaults from his triple world champion team-mate. His consistency put him in the driving seat from Suzuka onwards, but the sheer effort taken to maintain his championship challenge quite clearly took it out of him. He explained that he couldn’t do this again, and the task of facing an even more determined Lewis Hamilton is one that was probably too much even if the duo were handed a competitive chassis heading into F1’s newest era.
If one thing is clear, after this year’s emotional rollercoaster, it’s that in order to overcome a competitor of Hamilton’s stature and speed, you have to give everything and, in the world champion’s words, leave no stone unturned.
The regulation shake-up adds fuel to the fire
Over the past three seasons, the Silver Arrow has been the class of the field, unmatched in performance and no other team has produced anything near what can be categorised as a “challenger” to its supremacy. Rosberg knows that the 2017 rule change ushers in a period of uncertainty for the Brackley-based outfit in which the desired results are not guaranteed.
Their rivals from Milton Keynes are widely known as specialists in aerodynamics and with next year’s formula being aero-dominated, it is a real possibility that they may not be able to maintain their position as the sport’s class act.
Sitting on the sidelines unable to defend his championship will no doubt be tough for the German, but being in a machine that is unable to deliver the podiums that took him to his championship would be an even more bitter pill to swallow. You never know, though, and the 2017 Mercedes could prove to be as brilliant as its predecessors. Only time will tell. Rosberg explained that he does not want to follow his championship tilt with a struggle for podiums and if the motivation isn’t there, the results won’t come anyway.
In the days and weeks to come, many will write pieces dedicated to the career of Nico Rosberg. As a lover of F1, however, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the vacant Mercedes seat. The F1 circus will roll on regardless, and so will I.
In the past few seasons, the driver market has been at its most active in the closing stages of the season as driver and team look to stabilise their futures and begin planning for a successful assault the following year. Until this point, 2016 has been similar and many expected the only seats to be filled for next year would be the empty ones at Sauber and Manor.
Rosberg’s announcement, though, has ignited the driver market and the seat many crave has become available. The top drivers are under contract, but this is Formula One and I would not rule anything out at this stage. Contracts have not always been honoured in the past and the sport’s jugganauts have the financial clout to buy their desired asset out of an agreement. Mercedes is a marque that is used to winning and the heart says go for a top driver in order to maximise performance and lift the team with a marquee signing.
If the powers that be were to look back at the last few seasons, however, their experience of having two top drivers may lead them down a different path.
The team have on occasion been required to manage some very precarious situations between Hamilton and Rosberg, and that may prove a large enough deterrent to them choosing to employ a driver close to the calibre of their number 44.
It’s much easier when your team is not challenging for the title – drivers are more than willing to acquiesce to the requests of their team. Place them into a scenario as fraught as the one we witnessed in Abu Dhabi, however, and the potential outcome can verge on the unmanageable. It may have become lost in the events that followed, but Toto Wolff surely has to still let Lewis Hamilton know who is the boss should the Briton still be at the team next season…Enter speculation here.
Mercedes to string it out?
Common sense says that Pascal Wehrlein is a shoe-in for the drive. The pairing of Hamilton and Wehrlein would surely gift the status of de facto number one to Lewis as Pascal serves his apprenticeship under the triple world champion. Mercedes would see this as a safe short-term solution as the German young-gun matures into a seasoned championship contender.
The Formula One world is crazy, however, and the history books tell us to assume nothing. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. The rumour mill is in full swing and fans appear to be predicting pairings that would only come to fruition in their wildest dreams.
Mercedes have assured fans that they will not rush their decision and no doubt many board-level discussions will take place as Rosberg’s departure alters the dynamic of the team and they will want to be one hundred per cent sure before progressing.
I would not rule out anything, and the next few weeks will certainly be very exciting as we await news as to which driver they have opted for.
Do you agree with Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from F1?
Who will replace Rosberg at Mercedes?
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