NICO ROS­BERG RETIRES

WHEN: DE­CEM­BER 2 WHERE: FIA PRIZE GIV­ING,VI­ENNA

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No­body saw this com­ing. And we re­ally mean no­body.

The post-abu Dhabi Grand Prix head­lines were written, and they were pre­dom­i­nantly about Lewis Hamil­ton.

Hamil­ton has an un­canny abil­ity to at­tract at­ten­tion, and news of his pos­si­ble pun­ish­ment for do­ing noth­ing more than es­sen­tially be­ing a rac­ing driver with a win­ning men­tal­ity nearly over­shad­owed Nico Ros­berg’s maiden ti­tle success.

But then, a few days later, Ros­berg hit back with his own mam­moth head­line. And it was eas­ily the big­gest one of the year, if not the decade. ‘Ros­berg retires as world cham­pion’. It was a bolt out of the blue, and an ap­proach we’ve never seen be­fore in F1. Yes, Alain Prost did a sim­i­lar thing af­ter win­ning his fourth world ti­tle in 1993 with Wil­liams. But by that point the French­man was 38 and the sport’s most suc­cess­ful driver in terms of ti­tles at the time.

Ros­berg is only 31, and many say had per­haps the best years of his ca­reer ahead of him with the dom­i­nant Sil­ver Ar­rows team.

But, in re­al­ity, Ros­berg just wasn’t up for do­ing it all again. Things changed when he and his wife Vi­vian had their first child in Au­gust. Ros­berg’s pri­or­i­ties changed, and in his mind it be­came sim­ply all about this sea­son.

“This year took ev­ery­thing, I pushed like crazy in ev­ery di­rec­tion af­ter the dis­ap­point­ments of the last two years, but of course that had an im­pact on the ones I love,” said Ros­berg.

“It was a whole fam­ily sac­ri­fice, we put ev­ery­thing be­hind our tar­get. Vi­vian un­der­stood that this year was the big one, our op­por­tu­nity to do it, so I put the cham­pi­onship first while she did ev­ery­thing, look­ing af­ter our daugh­ter.

“But now I’ve climbed the moun­tain, and this feels right. I went into Abu Dhabi think­ing se­cretly that it would be my last race and I took my de­ci­sion on Mon­day, by fol­low­ing my heart. The first per­son I told was Vi­vian.

“I’m not will­ing to give the com­mit­ment of this year again, and I’m not in­ter­ested in com­ing fourth. I want to win, but I’m not in­ter­ested to do it all again. I don’t want to do it all again.”

With a team-mate as fierce as Hamil­ton al­ready gear­ing up for next sea­son in his quest for a fourth world crown, Ros­berg knew it would re­quire an even higher level of ded­i­ca­tion and per­for­mance to de­fend the ti­tle. And at this stage of his life, he wasn’t pre­pared to com­mit to it. It was a classy move to bow out on top. While Ros­berg’s de­ci­sion not to de­fend his ti­tle has drawn some crit­i­cism, it has been out­shone by the far greater warm re­cep­tion to his ac­tions, from peo­ple who re­alise that there some­times is more to life than sim­ply driv­ing around in cir­cles.

Ros­berg has achieved his aim, and has now also en­sured that he will go down in his­tory as a driver whose de­ci­sions stood out from the crowd. RL

the first meet­ing, which ob­vi­ously for the cham­pi­onship meant that I was ba­si­cally out of it be­fore I had even started.

“The big­gest thing then was get­ting to grips with the car,” ad­mits Dor­lin. “It’s a mas­sive step go­ing from a Saxo to the Clios; you’re go­ing from ba­si­cally road tyres to full slicks, and you’re dou­bling the horse­power and have a se­quen­tial gear­box – it’s a proper lit­tle race car. It’s cliched, but you re­ally have to grab those things by the scruff of the neck. Once I’d mas­tered that, and with help from Ed Pead, West­bourne’s driver coach, I was able to set­tle down.”

If that was an im­pres­sive year, 2016 has to go down as a stand­out cam­paign. Dor­lin started with a double win at Oul­ton Park, and de­spite los­ing the lead of the cham­pi­onship for a round, quickly bounced back. Fin­ish­ing the year with eight wins, and beat­ing guest driv­ers like tour­ing car reg­u­lar Josh Cook, Dor­lin claimed the ti­tle from clos­est ri­val Brett Lid­sey with a race to spare.

“The first meet­ing at Oul­ton Park was a high­light – start­ing the sea­son off with two poles, two wins, and two fastest laps; that was pretty good,” says Dor­lin. “But the Sil­ver­stone round stands out, where I won the cham­pi­onship. All year it was very close be­tween me and Brett. At ev­ery meet­ing I’ve had to go out fo­cused and make sure I was stay­ing up within the points or try­ing to beat Brett.

“It was al­ways go­ing to be tight be­cause there wasn’t a big gap be­tween us. I felt fairly con­fi­dent be­cause of the wins I’d had, and be­cause my lead was about 20 points. But it’s still 32 points for a win, so a DNF would have left me out of it.

“I messed the start up from pole in the first race and dropped to fifth or sixth, and Brett was lead­ing. That was when the red mist could have come down, but I took it steady for the first lap and then got into it and started to pick them up one by one and be­fore I knew it, I was chas­ing Brett down.

“If I stayed where I was, I’d win the cham­pi­onship – so I just sat on the back of his tail all the way round and brought it back.”

That success, and his stel­lar record pre­vi­ously, has cat­a­pulted Dor­lin to­wards the pub­lic eye. Grow­ing in­ter­est is some­thing he says he’s pre­pared for as best he can, hav­ing started to im­merse him­self in the world of Bri­tish Tour­ing Cars.

“I’m at a point now where I know quite a few [Bri­tish] tour­ing car driv­ers. I’ve started to get more and more in­ter­est, and it’s what we all want – hope­fully if we can con­tinue mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion and get onto the TOCA pack­age, that in­ter­est will con­tinue into next year and just take each one as it comes.”

A likely cam­paign in the Re­nault UK Clio Cup is ex­pected next year ( see Rac­ing News), but be­yond con­tin­u­ing his historic rac­ing out­ings ( see side­bar), rac­ing in the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport in the UK – the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship – is a sig­nif­i­cant, but pal­pa­ble, goal.

“It’s def­i­nitely doable, [es­pe­cially] if we can carry on the way we have been – aiming to be in the cham­pi­onship bat­tle ev­ery year, which will ob­vi­ously help to raise my pro­file,” he says. “I don’t want to jump the gun or any­thing, a lot de­pends on how next year goes as well. But I’ll al­ways do the best I can and see where we go.” ■

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