It's that time of the year when Nico Rosberg is breathing free. Having fought through what was clearly the most tumultuous challenge he's savored in life, after enduring arguably the most nail-biting race of his career, the final moments at Abu Dhabi's yielding a well-deserved World title, Rosberg is clearly the man of the moment.
Not only because his painfully correct tedium of giving his best earned him his much-awaited triumph in Formula One, but also because he is the talk of F1-town, albeit for a different reason altogether. Within 5 days of claiming his maiden title, Rosberg decided to call time on his career.
There you go: Nico Rosberg is no longer a Formula One driver. Deal with it!
But this makes for a strange case where there is possibly as much jubilation for Rosberg critics, inarguably, many of whom have forged careers by emerging as Nico-bashers as there is sorrow amidst fans, who were growing by the minute with every accomplishment of the blonde-haired champion.
You have to credit the German for reviving interest among fans in the pinnacle of motor-racing world, despite so much of it heading in one direction: an inevitable Mercedes domination thanks to Lewis' exploits.
If you wind the clocks back just a bit, you'd realize that 2016's winner Nico, won his last race this year at Japan. Hamilton's rebound to form, thanks to magnificent wins at USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi) was every bit threatening to Rosberg as it was enormously entertaining in lending the season some intensity just when it had begun to get yawny. This, in turn, made 2016 not only the best season one has witnessed over the last 3 years but Rosberg's own triumph, all the more worthy and scintillating.
The simplest of errors in Nico's clinical drive to finish P2(in Abu Dhabi), a throwback to Alain Prost's precise judgment and methodical racing ways, and we would have seen Hamilton on top, for a third straight year.
They say true titans reserve their very best in critical moments. And Nico ably demonstrated this by first fending off a charging Max Verstappen in his Red Bull by clearly making 'the move of the race' on lap 20, holding on to the inside line, going past the Dutchman. And later, defending against a raging Vettel-onslaught in the final laps as Hamilton played 'mind games in the guise of his defence of championship'. One reckons this tenacity made Rosberg the worthy competitor and a deserving champion in the end.
But here's something more interesting! How often have we seen a title decider heading to the final race of the year?
Stats suggest 33 times out of 67 straight Formula One seasons. Had Nico not been at his tenacious best, a phrase increasingly being likened to describe the charmer, we would have seen distorted statistics at the end of the day. It would have been Hamilton yet again where he’s habitually belonged: top of the standings. But it wasn't to be.
Nico's reasons of success
Classicists who fancy method over madness and regard precision over gloomy mind-games and politicking would regard Nico Rosberg's cerebral qualities and a 'never say die' attitude as the reason for his success. Here's some proof:
2015 at Spa-Francorchamps: Nico makes a wrong move through a weak manoeuvre over Hamilton in the middle sector and compromises the Briton's race, limping back somehow to finish on the podium. He gets booed, something Hamilton hasn’t faced despite openly disrespecting team-orders on many an occasion, as recently as Abu Dhabi. Toward the final race of that season, Nico faces a critical mechanical failure having led the race, bowing out albeit gracefully. All the focus remains with Lewis Hamilton, the worthy champion from last year.
As the euphoria surrounding Hamilton's glory increased, there was less talk about Nico, who garnered in 2015, his personal best stats in a single year- 6 race wins and 322 points. The real agony was felt by die-hard fans who sensed that Nico's remarkable efforts that helped Mercedes rule the F1 constructor's standing again, repeating 2014’s dominant form weren’t really regarded.
Save a good word from Niki Lauda, there wasn't much from Toto Wolff, the Brackley-based outfit's Team Principal.
One thought to himself that the driver - who broke out in F1 in 2006 and persisted constantly, getting his first podium finish in 2008 with Williams, his maiden victory in 2012 (Shanghai, Chinese Grand Prix) and one who even set the fastest lap in his maiden contest - would come back stronger in 2016.
This is precisely what Nico did in 2016 and look what happened
As he savours the silence after enduring the mad rush and noisy clutter of Formula One, it's his contemporaries who are stunned and his critics, baffled with his decision. Meanwhile, Nico is calm as a monk, regaling in his aloofness which, for him, is a ‘right’ decision.
He didn't just own the year in the end but became a worthy champion even in the eyes of the near pessimists who didn't savour the thought of another Rosberg standing on top of the championship table again, especially in the aftermath of a certain Keke Rosberg's triumph in 1982.
But while Nico's win, followed by sudden announcement might confuse the F1 fraternity a bit, crushing hearts of fans who have been there to support the man they hoped would 'become king', it shouldn't really be the case. We mustn’t succumb to nostalgia or bury ourselves under the enervating envelope of sadness of seeing a young talent going ‘early’ from the scene.
What we need to learn from Nico Rosberg's exit
Nico's sudden announcement, shocking according to Daniel Ricciardo and baffling for pundits like Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle, is actually reminiscent of a warrior bowing out with grace. It signals that glories, so often confused with 'points proven to make others wrong' are in fact about getting things right in the first place.
Implicit in Nico's sudden retirement is the boldness with which he has affirmed his place on the lofty pedestal of Formula One - as a worthy World Champion. You cannot take it away from him. The decision is reminiscent of the daring and guile with which he's forged F1's finest rivalry with team-mate Hamilton, F1's finest rivalry since Senna-Prost days and held titanic duels whether in leading laps to his drives to the checkered flag or bouncing back from adversities.
To savor victory is a moment we all crave for. To relish under the soothing joy of a triumph is a feeling nothing else could match. But to resist the temptation having experienced it already and to move on from it, is hard and therefore, demands some respect. And for that Nico's choice cannot be described as the predicament he would have wished to avoid in the forthcoming years.
Not the usual World Championship material
That he fancies his maiden title victory would be stating the obvious, something like Nico relishing a win at Monaco, in front of his home crowd. But to have come and done what clearly many didn't expect from Mercedes' '2nd best driver', according to popular public opinion, Nico, without delving in verbatim has delivered the knockout punch.
So much of 2016 has been about Rosberg's statistical mastery over his dominants as it has been about the rise of first-class talents like Max Verstappen. 9 race victories, 9 back to back finishes among top 2 positions (Belgium-Abu Dhabi), 4 back to back victories(Aus, Russia, China and Bahrain) make him second to none when it comes to aligning mental strength to sheer desire to win, even as he finished 2nd in the driver's standings.
Ever a gentleman athlete and also a dignified one, Nico's effusive praise on Hamilton while collecting his trophy speaks volumes about how intense rivals can also shed a good word or two about a team-mate who may just be the force of nature they can't seem to relish.
His immense regard for his race engineers team involved in developing a race-winning car that ultimately helped him soar is a testimony to his humble nature, a refreshing change amidst times marked by needless self-efficacy. In Rosberg, perhaps Formula One had one of the least complicated ambassadors of the sport who stood so much for competence and bettering the craft as for the hunger to do well at the highest level.
That all of his 23 victories have come from the Mercedes' stable make him the poignant and undeniable force of the Silver Arrows, perhaps the third most powerful blade in the arrow apart from Hamilton and the Lauda-Wolff partnership, not necessarily in the order.
And finally, for bowing out with grace while enjoying peak form at a time when the F1 world was his oyster, refusing charades in wake of his focus on conquering tasks at hand, we must hail Nico Rosberg. We’ve got fiery fighters like Alonso and we have the immaculately unflustered guys like Kimi. We’ve also seen how Nico’s contemporaries denigrate his retirement citing that ‘he won for the first time in 18 years’, finding nothing else to say. But in Nico Rosberg, Formula One had a different creature; a rare DNA for a warrior- mellow but obdurate, consistent but diligent, passionate but also erudite. And finally, fast but never self-absorbed. We will leave it to posterity to decide whether his exit from the sport is a reason for undiluted mourning or something else altogether.