Con­sider just what Nico has achieved

F1 Racing - - NEWS -

With a few days’ per­spec­tive on Nico Ros­berg’s soul-drain­ing ti­tle win in Abu Dhabi (this be­ing writ­ten less than a week af­ter he crossed the line), his de­ci­sion to quit F1 “at the top of his moun­tain” makes sense.

The Ros­berg we saw in the hour af­ter that most ag­o­nis­ingly in­tense race was a spent hu­man. Nor­mally so sharp-wit­ted, keeneyed and gen­er­ally ‘up for it’, he was empty, grey, brim­ming with emo­tion, and to­tally, ut­terly fin­ished. Just how ‘fin­ished’ we didn’t quite ap­pre­ci­ate that Abu Dhabi Sun­day, but while his re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment five days later was of course a bomb­shell, it’s not ac­tu­ally that much of a sur­prise.

Con­sider what he has achieved and what was re­quired of him: he beat Lewis Hamil­ton in equal ma­chin­ery. That is, as we note else­where in this is­sue, the tough­est job in F1. For the record, Hamil­ton is now the most sta­tis­ti­cally suc­cess­ful Bri­tish rac­ing driver ever and he’s fast clos­ing in on some stan­dards: the pole record set by Michael Schu­macher – 68 – is well within Lewis’s reach; he’s cur­rently on 61. So his sheer speed, his tal­ent for sim­ply driv­ing a rac­ing car to its very limit at all times, un­der all con­di­tions, has never been in ques­tion. Hamil­ton is also at the very top of his game: he fin­ished 2016 with the most wins (ten) and the most poles (12). That level of bril­liance is what Ros­berg was up against – and he knew it.

Tellingly, then, it was Ros­berg, not Hamil­ton, who topped the ‘fastest lap’ chart, with six ‘pur­ple’ tours. Therein lies a clue as to Nico’s mis­sion this season – it was all about max­imis­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented at ev­ery race week­end to put him­self in po­si­tion to take the ti­tle. At the Brazil­ian GP, as he re­veals in an ex­tended in­ter­view on p24, that meant turn­ing down his en­gine when he re­alised Hamil­ton was out of reach, to pre­serve more ‘oomph’ for Abu Dhabi. In Spain, where the pair in­fa­mously col­lided at Turn 4, that meant re­sort­ing to the ul­ti­mate games­man­ship of re­fus­ing to yield when he knew the track fight had been lost. On that day both men would go home early and point­less, but for Ros­berg, who had won the first four grands prix of the year, ‘nilling’ his ri­val was a bet­ter re­sult than fin­ish­ing seven points down, had they fin­ished one-two with Hamil­ton win­ning, as was likely.

“I brought a harder edge to my driv­ing this year,” Ros­berg told us later, hav­ing re­flected on the bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence of los­ing both race and ti­tle at last year’s US GP, when he was swiped from the lead by a charg­ing Hamil­ton. He re­solved that would never hap­pen again and it’s through that prism that we should view fraught mo­ments in Spain, Aus­tria, Malaysia (against Kimi Räikkö­nen) and Abu Dhabi (against Max Ver­stap­pen).

Bet­ter than Lewis? Maybe not. Ca­pa­ble of beat­ing him over one last-gasp season? Man­i­festly, yes. And one day, maybe 50 years down the line, an older, greyer Nico Ros­berg will light up a fat parejo, raise a glass of sin­gle malt in ac­knowl­edge­ment to his world cham­pion dad and mut­ter: “Yep, that’ll do.”

Fol­low An­thony on Twit­ter: @Rowl­in­son_F1

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