Ros­berg’s exit a sur­prise move

Rac­ing world tries to make sense of his de­ci­sion to quit five days af­ter claim­ing his maiden world ti­tle

CityPress - - Sport -

World cham­pion Nico Ros­berg’s re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment on Fri­day came as a com­plete sur­prise – even to the man who knows most of For­mula One’s best-kept se­crets, com­mer­cial supremo Bernie Ec­cle­stone.

“It was just as big a shock to me as you,” he told Reuters by tele­phone af­ter Ros­berg dropped the bomb­shell days af­ter se­cur­ing his first cham­pi­onship in last Sun­day’s Abu Dhabi sea­son-en­der.

“I had din­ner with [Mercedes team boss] Toto [Wolff ] last night and he ob­vi­ously couldn’t say any­thing to me [about it].”

While mak­ing light of the Ger­man driver’s de­ci­sion – “he needs more time to spend his money, that’s all” – Ec­cle­stone said he would like to see Spa­niard Fer­nando Alonso re­place Ros­berg along­side Lewis Hamil­ton.

The dou­ble world cham­pion is con­tracted to McLaren for the next sea­son, al­though given that team’s poor per­for­mances in re­cent sea­sons, he could well be scan­ning his con­tract for es­cape clauses.

McLaren are go­ing through change, with Ron Den­nis – who twice signed Alonso to the team – ousted last month as chair and CEO while Amer­i­can Zak Brown com­ing in as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

“It’s pos­si­ble I sup­pose, let’s see. They’ve got new man­age­ment now at McLaren. Maybe he’s fed up be­ing there and they’re fed up hav­ing him,” Ec­cle­stone said.

Alonso was pre­vi­ously Hamil­ton’s team-mate at McLaren in the Bri­ton’s stel­lar 2007 de­but sea­son, when they both fin­ished a point be­hind Ferrari’s cham­pion Kimi Räikkö­nen.

The 86-year-old supremo sug­gested Red Bull’s 19-year-old Dutch sen­sa­tion Max Ver­stap­pen would be “the ob­vi­ous an­swer” to the ques­tion of who should re­place Ros­berg, but that was not go­ing to hap­pen.

Ferrari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, a four-time world cham­pion, was also un­likely to be lured away.

“I think not. I don’t think Seb would want to be with Lewis,” said Ec­cle­stone.

Bri­tish book­mak­ers be­gan im­me­di­ately re­cal­cu­lat­ing their odds for next sea­son, with Mercedes re­serve driver Pascal Wehrlein the favourite to join Hamil­ton at the dom­i­nant cham­pi­ons.

Wil­liam Hill had Wehrlein, who scored a point for lowly Manor this year, at 3/1 with Alonso and Vet­tel both joint sec­ond favourites at 5/1.

Bri­tain’s Jen­son But­ton, mean­while, was 10/1 to call off his re­tire­ment.

“Lewis is now the hot favourite [for the ti­tle] but, with his com­pet­i­tive na­ture, I am sure he will be gut­ted not to be go­ing head-to-head next year,” Wil­liam Hill spokesper­son Ru­pert Adams said.

Mean­while, Hamil­ton said he was “sad but not sur­prised” at Ros­berg’s sud­den de­ci­sion to quit For­mula One, five days af­ter fi­nally claim­ing his maiden world ti­tle.

Hamil­ton and Ros­berg’s ca­reers have de­vel­oped in tan­dem, from the go-kart cir­cuits of their teenage years to F1 and the dom­i­nant Mercedes team.

And while Ros­berg’s rev­e­la­tion stunned F1 fans, his friend and fierce ri­val was un­fazed by the news.

“I’m prob­a­bly one of the only peo­ple that it was not a sur­prise to, but that’s be­cause I’ve known him for a long time,” Hamil­ton told au­tosport.com in Vi­enna at F1’s an­nual awards cer­e­mony.

“This is the first time he’s won in 18 years, hence it was not a sur­prise that he de­cided to stop.

“But he’s also got a fam­ily to fo­cus on, hav­ing chil­dren, and For­mula One takes so much of your time.”

Three-time world cham­pion Hamil­ton added: “We started out when we were 13 and we’d al­ways talked about be­ing cham­pi­ons.

“When I joined this team [Mercedes], Nico was there, which was again some­thing we talked about when we were kids.

“It’s go­ing to be very, very strange, and it will be sad not to have him in the team next year. The sport will miss him, and I wish him all the best.”

Un­like Hamil­ton, Ros­berg’s exit caught Jean Todt, the pres­i­dent of mo­tor­sport’s rul­ing body the FIA, un­awares.

“I speak with a lot of emo­tion, be­cause I knew him as a small boy.

“He was five at the time I was head of Peu­geot Mo­tor­sport, and his fa­ther (for­mer world cham­pion Keke) was one of the driv­ers of the 905 Peu­geot, so I had friendly links with his fa­ther, with his mother and the lit­tle boy who was there.

“He has had an amaz­ing ca­reer since then.”

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