Sports Stories of 2016: Nico Rosberg Wins Championship, Promptly Announces Retirement
At the beginning of the 2016 Formula 1 campaign, Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg was hardly considered a contender to win the drivers’ championship — he finished not only as world champion but as retired from Formula One altogether.
The 31-year-old Rosberg made the announcement less than a week after he’d captured his first championship in Abu Dhabi.
“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,” Rosberg said in a statement he posted to social media. “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 [wife] Vivian and George Nolte, followed by [Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief Toto Wolff].”
It was Rosberg’s most storied season in his 11-year Formula 1 career, in more ways than one.
The intense rivalry between Rosberg and his teammate, three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, was alive for their four-year partnership — the duo shared 54 grand prix wins, with Hamilton winning two world championships of his own.
But there has also been plenty of controversy.
While running behind Hamilton on the second lap of the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, Rosberg made an aggressive run into Les Combes in an attempt to overtake his teammate around the outside. While making the pass, Rosberg clipped Hamilton’s left-rear tire, both lose their positions on the track, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo zips by to steal the race win.
Rosberg was immediately blamed for the incident by fans and analysts, and by Hamilton, who said Rosberg allowed the crash to occur.
“We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose,” Hamilton said after the race. “He said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’. He basically said I did it to prove a point.”
The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix was what sparked the battle between the two during the most recent campaign. Hamilton, the race’s pollsitter, is passed by Rosberg for the lead at the first corner of the opening lap. However, Rosberg’s unaware that his car is in the wrong engine mode and is slow off Turn 3. Hamilton sees this and attempts to dive past Rosberg on his right.
Rosberg attempts to defend against Hamilton, which set off the chaos in the video below. Both drivers were ultimately retired from the race on its opening lap.
Austria was the boiling point for the two drivers, and for team principal Toto Wolff.
On the final lap of the race, Hamilton passes Rosberg for the lead are getting a run off the first corner of Turn 1, but the German, again, unwilling to relinquish, attempts to reclaim the lead. It was a move that ultimate cost Rosberg a podium finish, a resulted in him being sanctioned with a 10-second grid penalty. Have a look below.
In the end, Rosberg clinched his first world title while running in second behind race-winner, Lewis Hamilton. He defeated Hamilton by five points.
The relationship between the teammates had grown strained — Rosberg and Hamilton came up together through the karting circuit to become fierce rivals in F1, constantly needling each other in the media. They dueled for the F1 championship for the last three years. Rosberg was runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015.
Rosberg said he knew the day after he’d won the championship that it was time for him to retire, a comment many have questioned. However, while watching his son race in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg’s father, Keke, a Formula 1 world champion in his own right, said the strain of fighting Hamilton was sapping his son.
“I don’t know how much it’s taken out of him,” Keke said on on race day. “Maybe he retires tomorrow.”
After winning 23 races (tied for 12th all-time), 30 pole positions (8th) and 206 Formula 1 grands prix, Rosberg became the first reigning champion to announce his retirement since French driver Alain Prost did so in 1993.