2016 was a year full of many surprises, perhaps none more shocking than Nico Rosberg pipping F1’s mercurial superstar Lewis Hamilton to become Formula 1’s newest World Champion in a fair fight in F1’s longest season to date. And then that bombshell. Five days after his soul-draining title win in Abu Dhabi many of us expected Rosberg to be nurturing an almighty hangover somewhere in the privacy of his Monaco home, basking on a season in which he achieved the seemingly impossible…beating Lewis Hamilton in the same car. Sensationally, Rosberg sparked the sport’s media into a frenzy once more by announcing his immediate retirement from the sport.
Relief for Rosberg as he finally gets celebrate becoming World Champion with his mechanics after a gruelling 21-race long season.
Lewis Hamilton is on a level of brilliance that is unmatched by any of the current drivers in F1. He is the most statistically successful British driver of all time and his total of 61 poles suggests he is set to surpass pole record of 68 by the great Michael Schumacher. Lewis is the hands down quicker driver and his dominance has been abundantly clear in the seasons that Hamilton and Rosberg have been teammates. This is not to belittle Rosberg but rather to emphasise his achievements this season.
In hindsight his decision to retire does make sense. Immediately after he was announced as the World Champion we saw a man brimming with emotion yes, but totally spent and utterly finished. Manifestly, Rosberg proved that he is capable of beating Hamilton in a prolonged season but the energy, stress and sacrifices he’d need to forsake to defend his title must seem like a daunting prospect.
Last Lap of the Austrian GP. Rosberg attempts to defend from the charging Hamilton but his defensive move causes the two Mercedes drivers to collide.
Rosberg has, in his own words, reached “the top of his mountain” and can now hang up his helmet knowing full well he achieved his lifelong dream of becoming World Champion. Rosberg differs to Hamilton in this respect. Hamilton is driven by his unwavering belief that he is the best that has ever lived and will not stop pushing the limits until he has broken every record there is. This is the mentality that the very best sportsmen must be naturally attuned to maintain their relentless dominance in their field. Think Cristiano Ronaldo or Muhammad Ali.
Rosberg is on the other hand is a family man. He became a husband to his childhood friend and lifelong partner in 2014 and became a father the following the year. Having a F1 World Champion as a father, Keke, at a time when safety in F1 was far from today’s standards, Nico must have spent many a weekend wondering if his father would ever return. He does not want to put his family through that stress and for that he must be respected. By its very global nature, F1 does not really allow for family time and it is clear that Rosberg is not prepared to miss out on this.
So how did Rosberg beat Hamilton? Having suffered the disappointment of losing out on the World Championship the previous two years to Hamilton, Rosberg adopted a specific mantra throughout this season of “one race at a time”, refusing to get carried away by spells of momentum or bad form. Instead he maximised every single opportunity presented to him at every race weekend, be it a poor start from Hamilton, engine troubles or a harder edge to his driving.
Hamilton’s engine blowouts after seemingly cruising to victory in Malaysia.
Hamilton’s bad luck this season cannot be ignored. His engine troubles in the beginning of the season and most notably his engine blowout in Malaysia when cruising to victory, swung the title in favour of Rosberg. But Formula 1 is a mechanical sport at the end of the day and Rosberg was there to proverbially pick up the pieces and capitalise.