What next for Merc as champ Rosberg quits?
The new world champion bows out of Formula 1, leaving Mercedes with a seat to fill
Nico Rosberg shocked both his own Mercedes team and the rest of Formula 1 by announcing his retirement just five days after winning the world championship.
Rosberg, 31, revealed he’d started to formulate his decision at the Japanese Grand Prix in October, when his victory put him in control of the championship.
“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment 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. “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.”
He explained that had he not won the title, he would have carried on competing in F1. But having achieved his lifetime’s ambition, he decided he had had enough.
“I gave it everything I had, didn’t leave a stone unturned and I am not willing to do that again next year. Just following my heart. You only live once and this feels completely right.”
Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda, who famously quit F1 for the first time in the middle of a race weekend in Canada in 1979, before returning in 1982, said he had spoken to Rosberg to make sure he was doing the right thing. “I was really surprised; this was never on my radar that this could happen,” Lauda said.
“I spoke to him afterwards to find out because I did this twice in my career and I really wanted to make sure it was not a quick decision, which he might regret, and I wanted to find out how sure he is. Of my question: ‘How sure are you?’ he said ‘1,000 per cent’. Then I knew that it is over – you cannot convince him any more.”
Rosberg’s decision to leave with two years still to run on a contract he signed in July puts Mercedes in the awkward situation of having to find a team-mate for Hamilton when all the top drivers are under contract to other teams. Lauda said that “practically half the grid” had contacted Mercedes about the vacancy, and among those are believed to be both Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Team boss Toto Wolff said: “We have three roads that we can follow. The first is to think about having a number one and a number two, a bit like Ferrari at the time of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa. We can take a driver who can guarantee us points in the constructors’ championship.