Nico Rosberg cut a very happy figure when he was in the Monaco paddock compared to 12 months back when he was for the third time in as many years embroiled in the World Championship fight with his teammate.
What a difference a year makes, doesn’t it. One look at him and you could tell, he wasn’t the Nico Rosberg of the past, calculating each and every words that came out of his mouth and was very reserved. He seemed very happy and why wouldn’t he, he’s a world champion now, has a very lovely wife and a beautiful baby girl and a second child is on the way, earns millions of euros through brand endorsements. Is there anything more one could ask for?
Well actually there is, Nico’s only 31 and out of those 31 years he has dedicated more than 20 in motorsport pursuing his dream of a world title, one he achieved at the cost of immense sacrifices and sheer dedication and then decided that doing the same process again and again year after year is something he does not want only 5 days after winning the championship and so he bid the sport adieu. But for how long can he stay away? Michael Schumacher couldn’t, nor could Felipe Massa, so Nico maybe enjoying the relaxed life right now but how long before the craving for Adrenaline rush pulls him back, the mentality to put oneself to extreme demands of professional racing hounds him to once again pick up the gloves and do the only thing he knows how to do and that is racing.
How long before Nico Rosberg starts missing the savory taste of Champagne, having earned it after a weekend long battle with himself and his rivals and most importantly how long before he gives in to the ultimate desire of winning once again?
Why are we asking this question, it’s because Toto Wolff has intrigued us all by saying that the reigning World Champion can return to the sport with a team like Ferrari reasoning that the German retired too early and that he may get bored sitting at home.
So will Rosberg come back? I don’t think so.
During Autosport Awards at the end of 2016 season, Damon Hill, forever known as ‘the first son of’ after emulating two-time champion father Graham in 1996, jokingly welcomed Nico to the ‘son of’ club, adding that he, Damon, was president and Nico vice-president.
However, Hill’s jesting hid a serious message, for the duo had risen well above many ‘son of’ drivers, many of whom languished about in junior series before bombing out of the so-called family business. Damon has recently written movingly of the depression he suffered as he sought his own identity.
During the BRDC Awards luncheon, where Nico was welcomed into the British club on account of his 2013 British Grand Prix victory, Damon eloquently described how Nico had “absolutely turned his guts inside out” to win the title after “being put through the test against someone like Lewis Hamilton” before “asking himself ‘do I want to go
through that again?'”. By implication “that” clearly includes widespread sniping about how Nico had been born into privilege, grown up in Monaco; of how his family name had opened doors – yet a kid from a British council estate had trounced him to the title for two years in a row in the same car. Now consider ‘son of’ Damon’s plight: beaten by a driver from a German backwater in 1995, only to turn the tables the following year…
To compound matters for Nico, while Damon was always accepted as being of British Bulldog stock – as is Hamilton – and there were never doubts about Michael Schumacher’s place in German history, Nico has struggled to be accepted in either Finland or Germany.
Few Germans view him as the Deutsche Deal despite being born in Wiesbaden to a German mother, while Finns snigger that Nico speaks hardly a word of suomen kieli despite his father’s nationality, though he has mastered German, English, Italian, Spanish and French.
So national adoration has been largely absent during Rosberg’s career and that surely played in his decision to retire and will act as a great detractor if he ever ponders about coming back, for an inner need for hero worship forms the drive that feeds every sporting champion.
True, Germany has been strangely cold towards Sebastian Vettel but in Vettel’s case there is no doubting that the nation accepts him as one of their own. Point out that Nico is Germany’s third world champion, and brows puzzle.
Even within the Mercedes team, the team Rosberg joined and built up from scratch, it was not all rosy for him. The fact is, when Rosberg joined, all eyes were on the returning Michael Schumacher – Germany’s first and, to many, only authentic homegrown F1 hero. Team insiders tell of a media day where 100 hacks thronged around Schumacher while Rosberg stood forlornly in the opposite corner.
When Rosberg solidly trounced Schumacher over three years, did he receive accolades? No, suddenly Schumacher had lost it, had got too old, did not understand Pirelli’s tyres – name it, excuses were trotted out. Then, just when Mercedes came really good, thanks in no small part to Rosberg’s engineering insight, non-executive chair Niki Lauda went shopping for Hamilton.
Yet Rosberg stuck it out, believing fervently Mercedes would deliver the one element he craved above all else in life – save, later, Vivian and daughter Alaia – namely to replace the handle ‘Nico Rosberg, son of a world champion’ with ‘Nico Rosberg, world champion’.
In accepting BRDC honorary membership awards Rosberg spoke jokingly of it not being easy for “a German to be accepted in an English-speaking world”. Meant in jest, yes, the words suggests that even within his Mercedes team – despite its German masters, the Brackley-based team remains as British as always – he viewed himself as an outsider in a team dominated by Britain’s darling driver.
Consider Hamilton’s refusal to do media briefings, failure to turn up at functions, sudden ailments when tests beckoned; then recall that a smiling Rosberg was always there, best face forward, every word a sponsor’s delight. Forget that he dearly wished to be home with his family while Hamilton partied on all sides of the globe: Rosberg was there for Mercedes. Yet, when chips were down, such contributions were conveniently overlooked.
That is, of course, an internal Mercedes matter, but even Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s the then tsar, hoped for a fourth Hamilton title, rather than Rosberg’s first. “If Nico won the title it
would be good for him and good for Mercedes, but it wouldn’t necessarily help the sport because there is nothing to write about him,” the 86-year old said after Rosberg consolidated his points lead after Japan.
So F1’s tsar, the man whose job it is to monetise Formula 1, talks like this, would you really – deep down – want to “turn your guts inside out” all over again? It is telling that Rosberg decided after Japan that he would retire should the battle go his way – and Ecclestone’s attitude in this regard will surely have preyed on Nico’s mind at the time.
And although Ecclestone is gone now and the Sport have a much more- let say understanding- owners now, for Rosberg the sentiments remains the same, a rich “son of..”, an outsider, and the worst “a lucky world champion”. You don’t want to be in such an environment, nobody does, giving their absolute everything yet finding that the outlook of those around remaining the same.
F1 is a business, a sport, an entertainment industry… but that’s all it is. It’s not the be-all and end-all, yet Rosberg has spent his life being defined by it. He’s always been the son of Keke or the team-mate of Hamilton, yet after his greatest triumph he was probably never going to be given total credit for becoming a world champion in his own right.
Escaping the F1 bubble is not easy, leaving it on your own terms is even harder. All credit to Rosberg for doing exactly that and in returning he faces the biggest risk of diminishing his goodwill that he so painstakingly built over the course of his 11 yearlong F1 career especially last year and if people cannot give him the credit he’s due even after winning the Championship, there’s no point in returning back and Nico Rosberg, I’m sure, is well aware of that.