THIS IS NICO ROSBERG

A lit­tle un­der 12 months ago Nico Rosberg won the world cham­pi­onship and then abruptly an­nounced his departure from the sport be­fore he’d even col­lected his tro­phy. He’s been some­what elu­sive ever since, but now, speak­ing ex­clu­sively to F1 Rac­ing, Rosberg

F1 Racing (UK) - - THE LONG INTERVIEW - IN­TER­VIEW STU­ART CODLING

with more than a hint of rev­er­ence, Nico Rosberg reaches out to touch his cham­pi­onship-winning W07 Hy­brid af­fec­tion­ately on the nose, then turns to re­gard the grand sweep that is the cav­ernous con­crete in­ner sanc­tum of the Mercedesbenz Mu­seum. Here, like pinned but­ter­flies in a nat­u­ral-his­tory ex­hibit, but on a grander scale, the rac­ing cars at­tached to the banked wall bear silent tes­ta­ment to an evo­lu­tion­ary line – in this case, one that stretches from chain­driven pre-war le­viathans such as the 1909 Bl­itzen Benz to the lat­est hy­brid For­mula 1 machin­ery.

A large red crane stands ready to hoist Nico’s ti­tle-win­ner onto its fi­nal rest­ing place – but not be­fore its op­er­a­tors have posed for a selfie with both him and it. He obliges with the same easy charm that de­fused many a sticky mo­ment dur­ing his driv­ing ca­reer, as last year when he led a po­ten­tially hos­tile Monza crowd in an im­promptu sing-along – in Ital­ian – hav­ing led a Mercedes one-two that pegged their beloved Fer­raris into third and fourth places.

He quit mo­tor rac­ing, seem­ingly with­out a back­ward glance, an­nounc­ing his im­me­di­ate re­tire­ment on the eve of col­lect­ing his cham­pi­onship tro­phy via the con­tem­po­rary medium of choice for such com­mu­ni­ca­tions: a video posted on­line. “For 25 years my dream was very clear,” he said. “It was to win the world cham­pi­onship. I’ve achieved that now and I wanted to thank you [the fans] for your part in it, be­cause you kept me mo­ti­vated, kept me push­ing. But this year has been ex­tremely tough as well. I gave it every­thing I had, I didn’t leave a stone un­turned. And I’m not will­ing to do that again. And so, yeah, I’ve de­cided to call it a day – to stop rac­ing.”

Over the course of 67 sec­onds we had the briefest of in­sights into the sac­ri­fices – the sheer wretched ef­fort – re­quired not only to win the For­mula 1 world cham­pi­onship, but to do so with one of the sport’s most in­tense and gifted com­peti­tors as your team-mate in equal machin­ery. “I hope I’ll see you again some time soon,” he said as a sign-off. And, with that, he by and large van­ished from the scene, bar­ring a few guest ap­pear­ances at grands prix and a con­tin­u­ing trickle of life­style images on his im­mac­u­lately cu­rated so­cial me­dia feeds.

Per­haps he needed some time to ru­mi­nate on the mag­ni­tude of his achieve­ment and to throw him­self back into the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties he’d had to set aside in his push to achieve that goal – fa­ther­hood, for ex­am­ple.

The Nico we meet to­day ex­udes happiness, as if he has long since cast off the pres­sures that used to hound him. Af­ter one fi­nal di­ver­sion to walk-and-talk around the 1955 ex-stir­ling Moss/de­nis Jenk­in­son Mercedes 300 SLR for a video clip, he bounds over and pulls up a chair.

F1 Rac­ing: Can we just say you look very happy – well, as happy as some­one can be af­ter a day of deal­ing with peo­ple like us.

Nico Rosberg: Yeah, but it’s dif­fer­ent. I don’t have to be here to­day. It’s not part of my job – I wanted to come. It’s com­pletely free choice, so it’s a plea­sure to speak to you. [He of­fers a cheeky grin.] For me it’s a spe­cial day. Be­fore this place was built, I used to come here with Lewis [Hamil­ton] for Stars & Cars [Mercedes’ an­nual mo­tor­sport cel­e­bra­tion, held in the nearby sta­dium] be­cause we were in the Mercedes Ju­nior Pro­gramme. Mika Häkki­nen and David Coulthard were the he­roes; we were the young dudes look­ing up to them, see­ing all the Sil­ver Ar­rows his­tory, cars, every­thing, and Mika’s ’98 ti­tle-winning car join­ing the ranks. And now mine gets the next spot. Un­be­liev­able.

F1R: You’ve been a lit­tle bit elu­sive, apart from a few things on so­cial me­dia. What is the life of a world cham­pion like?

NR: It’s very ex­cit­ing. There’s a lot go­ing on. I have a lot of other pas­sions in life, there’s no prob­lems there. So I’m watch­ing the rac­ing be­cause I love it, and I’m en­joy­ing it. Then, some­thing that I’ve been very in­ter­ested in, is the way cars now are go­ing to change our planet, with electric mo­bil­ity, au­ton­o­mous cars and then mo­bil­ity drones. This is right around the cor­ner. So I’m re­ally look­ing into that, get­ting to know a lot of fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, com­pa­nies, star­tups and all that. So I’m en­joy­ing the busi­ness an­gle.

Fam­ily-wise it’s an in­tense time be­cause we’re ex­pect­ing our sec­ond child [his daugh­ter, Naila, was born shortly af­ter this in­ter­view took place] so that’s tak­ing quite a big chunk of my at­ten­tion. I’m sup­port­ing Vi­vian a lot be­cause our lit­tle one, Alaïa, is a bit out of con­trol. She’s into her ‘ter­ri­ble twos’.

So that’s prob­a­bly the two pil­lars at the mo­ment. It’s an ex­cit­ing ex­plo­ration pe­riod. I’m just very happy and lov­ing it – and the free­dom that I have over my cal­en­dar now. Of course it was awe­some to be an F1 driver and I feel very, very

lucky cal­en­dar to have is set been by some­one able to do else that, for but you, it’s the an whole in­tense sea­son life. Your and every­thing. So it’s a dif­fer­ent life­style now. It’s just very free and I can go where I want, do what­ever I want. And I’m lik­ing that. It feels great.

It’s clear from his ex­pres­sion that he’s very sin­cere about lov­ing the con­trol he now has over his own des­tiny. Let’s ex­plore how clean the break was when he de­cided to quit, and how dif­fi­cult he found the de­ci­sion.

F1R: It’s very in­ter­est­ing, what you said about there be­ing lots of things you’re pas­sion­ate about, be­cause for some peo­ple in For­mula 1 the sport is the only thing they’re in­ter­ested in. It’s what they live for and they find it very dif­fi­cult to walk away.

NR: That’s true, yeah, for many peo­ple. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you have a strong pas­sion. For me, it’s nice that I have other pas­sions I can en­joy just as much as rac­ing. Where it’s a challenge as well, I can have that same thrill I had in rac­ing – not ex­actly the same, but the way I do it, you know, still full-at­tack and want­ing to win.

F1R: Do you see your busi­ness in­ter­ests as mov­ing away from mo­tor­sport, or are they com­ple­men­tary? Be­cause your dad got in­volved in driver man­age­ment, didn’t he?

NR: It all de­pends. I love rac­ing, but it doesn’t have to be to­mor­row. I will keep that door open. As I said, I love com­ing to races just to watch them, and I love watch­ing the rac­ing on TV. Young driv­ers, for ex­am­ple, I’ll keep my eyes open for, be­cause it’s an op­por­tu­nity also for me to re-live the emo­tions of winning through some­one else. [Weeks af­ter this in­ter­view, Nico an­nounced that he would be join­ing Robert Ku­bica’s man­age­ment team, to help with Ku­bica’s F1 come­back]

F1R: You made it into F1 at the rel­a­tively early age of 20, but you got into a team [Wil­liams] who weren’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to win, be­fore you moved to Mercedes. Was there ever a time in your ca­reer when the world cham­pi­onship seemed out of reach or very dis­tant on the hori­zon?

NR: For sure. All the time it was out of reach and in the dis­tance, and not a re­al­ity. Up un­til four races from the end of last sea­son when I was 33 points in the lead! Against Lewis it was al­ways go­ing to be tough be­cause he’s such a great racer.

F1R: You’ve been quite open about how you changed your ap­proach for 2016, that there were a lot of men­tal ex­er­cises, and that it was quite drain­ing. NR: [Quick as a shot!] I didn’t say ‘drain­ing’. ‘In­tense’ maybe. But it was mas­sive.

F1R: In­tense, then. Did that in­form your de­ci­sion to re­tire at the end of the year? And did you tell any­one else be­fore­hand? When Jackie Ste­wart de­cided to re­tire in 1973, he made up his mind well in ad­vance, but didn’t even tell his wife be­cause he didn’t want her to be count­ing down the races in case any­thing hap­pened be­fore then. NR: Well I can fully un­der­stand that. I didn’t make my mind up, but I had thought about it and I didn’t tell any­body. F1R: So when did you de­cide?

NR: On the grid in Abu Dhabi, be­fore the race. I was try­ing to apply all my med­i­ta­tion skills, but noth­ing worked. What worked was the re­al­i­sa­tion that this might be my last race! I was like, ‘Oh damn, okay, let’s go and en­joy the driv­ing – it might be the last time!’ That clar­i­fied all the stress.

F1R: How much did you en­joy that? Be­cause at the end of that race you did look very, very drained, and it looked as if it was a race that had gone on about ten laps too long for you.

NR: No, I don’t un­der­stand why you would say that, be­cause of course the race was mas­sively in­tense, but by the time you saw me I don’t think I would have been look­ing drained be­cause it was an ab­so­lute emo­tional thrill that I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced in my life be­fore. For sure [he laughs] there were some tears, but that was just an emo­tional over­flow of ex­cite­ment. It was one of the most beau­ti­ful mo­ments in my life. I wasn’t drained. F1R: Per­haps ‘re­lieved’ would have been a bet­ter word for it.

NR: Why ‘re­lieved’? I wouldn’t say that that word ap­plies ei­ther. No, it was the ex­cite­ment of achiev­ing my child­hood dream. ‘Re­lief’ is like you’ve been scared of some­thing or what­ever, you know? This wasn’t about fear, it was the pos­i­tive thrill of hav­ing grabbed what I’d been aim­ing for.

We seem to have hit a vein of de­fen­sive­ness, so per­haps it’s time for a change of di­rec­tion. It’s a pop­u­lar maxim in the pad­dock that you don’t leave F1 – it leaves you. Let’s test that.

F1R: How per­son­ally dif­fi­cult for you was it to then make the de­ci­sion to quit – and to fol­low it through? Be­cause a lot of peo­ple find it very hard to re­tire. Look at Michael Schu­macher.

NR: Yeah, through my men­tal train­ing I’ve learned that for me it’s im­por­tant to fol­low my in­stincts. I’ve learned to lis­ten to my in­stincts more and more, be­cause I think it’s a very pow­er­ful in­di­ca­tion of what you should be do­ing – and of what you want to do. So that’s one thing. And I fol­lowed my in­stincts in this case by stop­ping.

It’s also about change, and putting your­self in un­usual, dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. That’s where you grow as a hu­man be­ing, you know? So I’ve learned to push my­self into those sit­u­a­tions, be­cause I know that they are go­ing to be amaz­ing for my growth as a hu­man be­ing. And I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that now, def­i­nitely. For over 20 years, ev­ery day was about rac­ing, every­thing was planned, every­thing was just about winning the next race. That’s how I did it, as a to­tal life ded­i­ca­tion. There were no com­pro­mises: it was 110 per cent of the life goes into winning the next race.

And now that’s gone, so it takes a lot of adapt­ing, but it’s an ex­cit­ing pe­riod. And, as I said, ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent av­enues, and meet­ing peo­ple where you then dis­cover in­ter­est­ing new thoughts on every­thing. F1R: Mario An­dretti said when he re­tired he got re­ally ill, and his doc­tor said, “Ba­si­cally your body thinks that you’re dead.”

NR: Ex­actly. There are so many sto­ries like that, and I can un­der­stand. It takes a lot of… what it comes down to is dis­ci­pline. You need to un­der­stand that, be­cause as a rac­ing driver dis­ci­pline was forced on me, al­most, be­cause I knew where I needed to be to win the world cham­pi­onship. But now

it’s a com­pletely freestyle life, it also takes dis­ci­pline to keep a healthy life­style and to keep happy. And that, I’ve learned, is not easy. My men­tal train­ing helps a lot. I used to get up at eight o’clock in the morn­ing to go run­ning, so I do it now as well. It’s about keep­ing the rhythm go­ing.

F1R: Also, you don’t want to be one of those world cham­pi­ons who turns up and can’t fit in their over­alls!

NR: [Laughs] No, no! I’ve put on a cou­ple of ki­los, but that’s go­ing to be a life-long fight any­way.

Now that we’ve aban­doned the is­sue of post-abu Dhabi se­man­tics, let’s broach an­other defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of Nico’s ca­reer – the cor­ro­sive ef­fect of his ri­valry with Lewis Hamil­ton on their friend­ship. F1R: Has your re­la­tion­ship changed with other peo­ple in F1 now that you’re no longer com­pet­ing against them, par­tic­u­larly Lewis, be­cause that re­la­tion­ship had a few bumps?

NR: I’m sure it will… [He takes a long, thought­ful pause as he care­fully con­structs a re­sponse be­fore say­ing it.] Yes, be­cause I’m not a com­peti­tor any more.

You win in any way you know, so it takes a bit of time to get used to that, or to get used to that thought, but I think with time it will change. And I can see that al­ready with a cou­ple of the driv­ers, be­cause they don’t see me as op­po­si­tion any more, which I’m not, and I never will be again.

Is this a tacit ad­mis­sion that he some­times know­ingly over­stepped the mark in com­bat, as with the ‘mis­take’ in qual­i­fy­ing at Monaco in 2015 and var­i­ous other com­ingsto­gether with Hamil­ton on-track, and that he didn’t rel­ish hav­ing to do it?

F1R: Has re­tire­ment changed your per­spec­tive on the sport, for in­stance when you’re watch­ing on TV and you see the body lan­guage? Par­tic­u­larly things like the driv­ers’ pa­rade where you see them hid­ing away with their head­phones on, not in­ter­act­ing with each other? NR: Oh, I was aware of all that when I was in­volved… Some­thing in the tone of his voice, and the way he al­lows his sen­tence to trail off, sug­gests to us that Nico is keen to em­brace a change of sub­ject. We’re not fish­ing for dirt here, so let’s oblige him.

F1R: With the change in F1’s own­er­ship, was there any thought in your mind that per­haps you were miss­ing out on an op­por­tu­nity to be in at the start of some­thing big…?

NR: No, I never had any thoughts or wor­ries of miss­ing out, be­cause for me it was: ‘I have ac­com­plished every­thing.’ There was noth­ing to miss out on. For me, it felt like ex­actly the right mo­ment to move on, and for my life now it’s good that I have this mas­sive high be­hind me, you know? It’s car­ry­ing me into my new life.

F1R: That’s a great way of look­ing at it, be­cause Da­mon Hill said that when he be­came world cham­pion, and achieved what he’d been aim­ing for, he didn’t know what to do next. And you seem to have got that worked out.

NR: No, I’m not that far. It’s just been ten months, it’s a life change. It’s not like I have every­thing 100 per cent worked out. So I’m ex­plor­ing, I’m hav­ing fun, but do I have every­thing worked out? Not quite yet, no.

F1R: As the son of a world cham­pion, when you were younger it seemed as if mo­tor rac­ing was the life mapped out for you. I met you when you were 13 or 14 and al­ready Lewis’s team­mate, at the Margutti Tro­phy in Parma. Nei­ther of you won, and Lewis took it re­ally badly, but you seemed to put the de­feat be­hind you im­me­di­ately. I as­sumed that maybe you didn’t want suc­cess as badly as Lewis did, so you’ve ba­si­cally spent the past 20 years prov­ing peo­ple like me wrong. Do you feel that peo­ple may have un­der­es­ti­mated you be­cause you’re the son of a world cham­pion…? NR: When I was grow­ing up, I learned that there will al­ways be two dif­fer­ent opin­ions. There are al­ways go­ing to be the peo­ple who think that you’re do­ing a great job and there are al­ways go­ing to be those who doubt it. That’s also how I learned to cope with that – it never was a focus in my mind any­way. Of course, though, there was a lot of prej­u­dice – no, pre­judge­ments… what’s the word?

F1R: Precon­cep­tions.

NR: Precon­cep­tions. It’s amaz­ing – I grew up in a wealthy back­ground and my dad is a For­mula 1 world cham­pion, so it’s un­be­liev­able how many peo­ple I’ve had to con­vince that I ac­tu­ally am quite a nor­mal guy who’s ded­i­cated his life to the mis­sion of be­com­ing world cham­pion. F1R: A lot of them would have writ­ten that you were a wanker if you hadn’t! NR: [Laugh­ing] We’ve al­ready cov­ered that base, I think!

F1R: Just to elab­o­rate on the sub­ject of prov­ing your­self, how tough was it to move into Mercedes, which was ba­si­cally Michael Schu­macher’s team when he made his come­back?

NR: Yeah, it made for some dif­fi­cult mo­ments of course, be­cause he comes in and it’s like God walk­ing through the door. Re­ally. Ev­ery time he walked in, all the en­gi­neers – metaphor­i­cally speak­ing – stopped what they were do­ing and ad­mired him.

And then the first strat­egy meet­ings. Only Michael is ad­dressed. I’m sit­ting right next to him and I’m hardly looked at, even if I was sixth on the grid and he’s 12th. It was those mo­ments that were tough to di­gest ini­tially. I hadn’t even won a race when I drove for Mercedes. And he was a seven-time world cham­pion, so you can imag­ine the dif­fer­ence there.

But I’m thank­ful be­cause the team al­lowed me to gain re­spect, and they were open-minded enough to re­ally dis­cover ‘Okay, this guy ac­tu­ally knows how to drive a race car, and he’s not that dumb’ [he laughs again]. So I was able to grow nicely in the team and I’m thank­ful for that. And then of course Lewis came in. By that time I’d won only one race [China 2012] and he was the big world cham­pion, the fu­ture su­per­star or what­ever. So again I had that sit­u­a­tion, with both him and the team be­ing Bri­tish, where it felt as if I had to es­tab­lish my­self and gain the re­spect from ev­ery­body again, and find a strong po­si­tion in the team as well. But again there, I feel that they re­ally al­lowed me to do that and I was able to come to a level with Lewis, even in the team in­ter­nally, which was a great feel­ing and great to see.

F1R: You make a very in­ter­est­ing point, be­cause Nel­son Pi­quet told us that when he was at Wil­liams he felt he wasn’t get­ting equal treat­ment, be­cause he was a for­eigner in a Bri­tish team and he had a Bri­tish team-mate. Was that just an im­pres­sion that you had, one that you sub­se­quently dis­missed?

NR: Of course there is that. The Brits are for the Brits and the Ger­mans are for the Ger­mans. For sure there is that. But I re­ally didn’t see that in the team. They were very sup­port­ive of me – ev­ery­body through­out the whole fac­tory. So that made it all the more spe­cial.

say In one Fe­bru­ary more thank I went you, by just be­cause to do I a hadn’t lap of gone the fac­tory, to see them just to af­ter every­thing my re­tire­ment. they’ve done I wanted for me. to show that I ap­pre­ci­ated F1R: Will you carry on be­ing an am­bas­sador for Mercedes? NR: I don’t see it as a long-term thing. It’s not a pas­sion, re­ally. I guess you can un­der­stand…

There’s a twin­kle in his eyes as he laughs again. Yes in­deed, driv­ers re­ally don’t en­joy the de­mands of be­ing teth­ered to a mar­ket­ing cam­paign. F1R: Well, as you said, you’ve got plenty of other irons in the fire. What about the F1 side? NR: That’s go­ing to be – how do you say it nicely? – it’s nice to still be a part of the Mercedes fam­ily and the team, but at the mo­ment I don’t see it as a long-term so­lu­tion for me. To­day, this is me com­ing per­son­ally – it’s my day, I could be on the beach if I wanted to, and I’m not be­ing paid to be here – I want to be here be­cause it’s spe­cial to see my car come into the leg­endary po­si­tion.

That said, Nico has done a lot more than watch his car be­ing mounted on a wall to­day – ear­lier, he did an ex­ten­sive meet-’n’-greet with fans on the Mercedes cam­pus.

F1R: So you’ve va­cated your po­si­tion at Mercedes – and it’s been very in­ter­est­ing to see that when Valt­teri Bot­tas oc­cu­pied it, he made a point of re­tain­ing your core team. Most new peo­ple, when they come in to a new team, they want to in­stall their own peo­ple…

NR: But I think he was smarter than that, be­cause those peo­ple are pretty damn good. It was a clever move not to try to change any­thing there. F1R: Is F1 such a mar­ginal-gains sport now that you have to pay at­ten­tion to small de­tails like that?

NR: Ev­ery sin­gle de­tail counts. Look, in the sum­mer break last year I de­cided to stop cy­cling be­cause the leg mus­cles are among the heav­i­est things on your body. I lost 1kg as a re­sult that Au­gust. We came back, and three races later it was the Ja­panese Grand Prix. One kilo of body weight is 0.04 of a sec­ond per lap when the car is at the weight limit. I was on pole at Suzuka by 0.03 sec­onds.

My smaller leg mus­cles got me on pole, and that messed with Lewis’s head, so he messed up the start. I fin­ished first, he fin­ished third, and I had the points lead that I needed to be able to cruise home with sec­ond places. F1R: Sir Chris Hoy could have told you that cy­cling can make your legs quite chunky. NR: I met him re­cently, yeah, he still has legs like that! Un­be­liev­able. So I asked him for some ad­vice on how to build up my leg mus­cles again. F1R: Well you can now, can’t you? NR: I am do­ing it, for sure, big time. F1R: He’s been rac­ing cars re­cently. Did he ask for any tips? NR: Ha ha! No, he didn’t. Nico has kindly opted to take a later flight back to Nice so as to squeeze F1 Rac­ing into to­day’s busy agenda but, even so, it’s wise not to gam­ble on the Stuttgart traf­fic, so we wrap up the in­ter­view on this note of lev­ity. He pauses to scan through the pho­tos – “Thanks. Nice work!” – gives a fi­nal glance around the banked wall of mo­tor­ing greats, thanks us once again, and bids us farewell.

He’s off to con­tinue the next chap­ter of his life – a nar­ra­tive that ex­ists, it seems, only in out­line form at the mo­ment. But he’s dug deep to win be­fore – beat­ing Michael Schu­macher, and trans­form­ing him­self into a more-than-un­stop­pable force to over­come the im­mov­able ob­ject of rac­ing ex­cel­lence that is Lewis Hamil­ton – so what­ever lies ahead, don’t bet against him ex­celling at it.

POR­TRAITS MAL­COLM GRIF­FITHS

Our Jan­uary ’06 front cover marked Nico’s ar­rival in F1. Back then he was bet­ter known as the son of Keke and still had much to prove

It was a long hard slog, but his mind train­ing gave him the edge, and Nico fi­nally got to hold the F1 driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship tro­phy aloft

Nico’s sec­ond cover shoot in Au­gust ‘06 passed into F1R folk­lore as former ed­i­tor Matt Bishop and Mclaren’s Jo Ramírez held back the Monaco traf­fic for pho­tog­ra­pher Matthew Stylianou

By June 2013 Nico had proved him­self at Mercedes, but now had a new challenge on his hands in the shape of Lewis Hamil­ton…

Our Oc­to­ber ’15 cover fo­cused on the ri­valry be­tween Lewis and Nico that had come to frame F1’s nar­ra­tive

Jan­uary 2017 and job done: af­ter an in­tense fight for the ti­tle Nico achieved his dream at the sea­son fi­nale and an­nounced his re­tire­ment days later

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