WILMINGTON, Del. — It is very rare that something will rouse me from my bed before 10:30 a.m. during the week; trust me, a year of covering Australian touring car racing will do that to a man.
Hell, I don’t even think a nuclear winter would get me up that early in the morning.
But I will admit one thing that does (and did): a reigning Formula One World Champion retiring from the sport, especially one at the peak of his career like Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg announced his retirement at the FIA Prizegiving in Vienna on Friday, citing the fact that he achieved his ultimate dream and there was nothing further he wanted to do in the series. Not since Alain Prost in 1993 will the Formula One grid be without the reigning World Champion going into next season.
When I watched the closing ceremonies at Abu Dhabi, I noticed the far-off look in Nico’s eye. At the time, I thought he was awe-struck by his feat, one that took him years to accomplish. Now, I’m reconsidering that thought and thinking that, even then, he was thinking about this decision.
Now, as I write this just prior to 10 a.m. on Friday, my mind is still working its “traction control” to grasp at some sense of clear feeling on this.
Nico’s decision leaves the sport of Formula One racing shrouded in even more uncertainty going into the winter, with the reigning world champion retiring as the sport itself sits on the verge of a new set of technical regulations that has the potential to blow the level of parity out of the water … depending on how it plays out, of course.
From a personal standpoint, I’m quite torn about how to feel about losing Nico from the grid. On one hand, I am sad to see him go. It has been an enjoyable decade of watching him progress from starting out at Williams and, really, not having a clue to now being one of the top open-cockpit drivers in the world.
On the other hand, I am pleased he retired at the top of his game and in the sheen of the brightest moment of his career. Now, his record can’t be tarnished by a lack of effort or bad team choice; it’s perfectly preserved, like a photo shot on Kodachrome.
Consider that Abu Dhabi was also the last race for Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, two of Formula One’s leading lights over the past decade. They both retired from the sport driving points-scoring, but not winning cars. They experienced the decline of their careers.
Rosberg, by winning the trophy and dropping the mic, will never have to deal with that.
When I think of Nico’s father, Keke, I don’t think of his 1982 World Championship, nor do I think of his drive in the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, in which he beat the heat, the track and all the other drivers to win.
Instead, I think of his masterful drive in the 1986 Australian Grand Prix, which though he retired from, he was driving a powerful race throughout. He retired a great driver, as has his son.
I am glad Nico announced his retirement when he did, because I can’t imagine what nonsense is yet to take place in F1 next year with (now former) teammate Lewis Hamilton. While Mercedes hasn’t announced any kind of punishment for Hamilton’s drive at Abu Dhabi (which I see nothing wrong with, but that’s an opinion for another day), hopefully this announcement puts “Leader-gate” (yes, I’m calling it that) to bed before it truly begins.
Basically, what it comes down to is this: I don’t know exactly what to feel about Nico’s retirement, so my brain is just making sure I feel a little bit of everything, apparently.
With Rosberg retiring at the top, just as Prost did, one must feel for Hamilton like many felt for Senna at the end of 1993. Hamilton can’t beat the man who beat him, and that has to eat at him as we go into the offseason.
While I’m sure Lewis will lose some sleep this winter over Nico’s retirement, I hope it won’t destroy his motivation. After all, he still has Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Ayrton Senna reincarnated (a.k.a. Max Verstappen) to deal with, so he’d better be on his toes.
And for the record, I’m already thinking hard and trying to figure out who will take Nico’s seat, because Formula One is a predatory business. With Esteban Ocon being firmly placed at Force India, will it be Pascal Wehrlein who grabs the seat, or will Max Verstappen break all the codes of ethics in the world and sell his soul for the World Champion’s seat? My mind is already boggled at all the possibilities this move opens up for next year’s grid…
I wish Nico nothing but the best with his decision. He must have mulled this over for a long time, and I feel like he has no regrets. I hope Nico, his wife Vivian and their young daughter have a very happy life, with the weight of Formula One off their shoulders.
Hey, maybe now he can sleep until 10:30…
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Jack Cobourn is the international motorsports correspondent at Race Chaser Online, and covers the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, Rally Cars, Formula One and the FIA World Rally Championship.
Cobourn has been an avid follower of motorsports for years, having not missed a Formula One race in 16 seasons. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware, with a degree in history and a minor in journalism.
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