Only five days after winning the 2016 drivers' championship, Nico Rosberg has announced that he is retiring from Formula One.
Nico's full statement on his retirement:
“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 fuelled 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…”
From his own upbringing, Nico knows first hand what it's like for a father to be absent due to racing commitments. As his own family enters this new chapter he clearly feels that missing out on the first years of his daughter's life just to go through another traumatic year for both drivers and management at Mercedes. He must know that he has but together the best season of his life, even reliability favoured him and the result still went down to the final lap and a mistake that cost him even two seconds would have lost him the title.
At only 31, there's no question Rosberg could continue to race at the highest level for a long time still if he chose to. Clearly other options exist, if the environment became too toxic he could always switch to more emotionally supportive team for example.
As options go, this is a bit of a crap shoot - if you're not doing every thing you can to give yourself the best chance of winning (either races or championships) then you probably have no business driving in Formula One.
So that leaves retirement, although I think there's a very good chance we'll still see Rosberg racing in another class of one form or another.
Mercedes management will now be hustling to fill the seat vacated by Nico's retirement, I'm sure action plans have already been formulated and executed. They have a number of young drivers that now have F1 experience, including Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. The frenchman has already been announced as driving at Force India but could well be promoted, while Wehrlein's future remains unclear he was given a testing opportunity this year as a contingency against Hamilton who threatening to walk out on the team after the Spanish GP.
Promoting a junior driver is a risky move, especially with new regulations that could see Red Bull or Ferrari close the gap on Mercedes. Securing the constructors' championship will be front of mind when they make their selection, and whether drivers with at most one year of experience in the sport can work with Hamilton and play rear-gunner by fending off the likes of Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen remains to be seen.
Alternatively they could put up the big bucks and add another big name to their stable. The names Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen would have to be high on their wishlist, while Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have had mediocre years as their teams build and could be looking to move to a garage further up the pitlane. Whether Seb of Fernando want Lewis for a bunkmate is another question.
Poaching a more experienced and proven driver in the mould of Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez or even Carlos Sainz would solve this problem, but while such a move might be low-risk, it's also low reward. Mercedes are far more likely to either turn up the heat by buying-out someone's existing contract or invest in the next big thing.
Least likely, in my humble opinion, is the prospect of Jenson Button reversing his decision to retire and rejoining his old teammate. Although Button technically had the edge on Lewis from a points perspective during their time together, even the lure of driving a championship front-running car is probably not enough to rekindle his motivation.
Interestingly Rosberg admitted that he formulated the plan to retire if he won the title even before the season was finished. Unfortunately Formula One's image has now been tarnished by having the reigning world champion decide that he has more important things to focus on than continue in the sport.
It's sad also that fans won't get the chance to farewell Rosberg properly at race events, they way fellow drivers Jenson Button and Felipe Massa did.