The 2016 Formula One champion Nico Rosberg’s “shock” retirement just five days after clinching the title with a harrowing second-place finish behind team-mate and bitter rival Lewis Hamilton in the season’s final race at Abu Dhabi has left his now-former Mercedes AMG team scrambling to find a replacement, according to numerous news reports and comments from F1 insiders.
Although unexpected, Rosberg’s decision not to return next season to defend his title was not without precedent; others among the sport’s icons – Mike Hawthorn, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, and Alain Prost – all left as champions, and Rosberg’s own comments on the matter revealed a certain satisfaction with the move.
“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion,” Rosberg was quoted as saying by the Formula 1 website. “I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right.”
Rosberg, son of the 1982 Formula One champion Keke Rosberg, added, “There is time to savor the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me.”
Rosberg’s retirement was reportedly met with scorn from three-time champion Hamilton, who was nipped by his best friend turned rival by just five points, and was said to be looking forward to avenging his loss next year.
A source at Mercedes said that the team was taken by surprise because Rosberg had not hinted that he was considering retirement, and because both he and Hamilton are under contract through at least next season, the team was not yet shopping around for possible replacements.
Who might fill Rosberg’s vacated seat has been the subject of intense gossip within the F1 fraternity. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas has been mentioned by several reports, with one possible scenario being Williams’ being granted a hefty discount on its engines (which are supplied by Mercedes), and a waiver of the “gardening leave” period of Mercedes’ departing executive technical director Paddy Lowe, allowing him to work for Williams. Another possibility is German driver Pascal Wehrlein, who drove the 2016 campaign for the soon-to-be defunct Manor F1 team, and is reportedly negotiating for a 2017 drive for Sauber.
Perhaps the most interesting suggestion has come from former Formula One driver and CART champion Alex Zanardi, who believes that MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi would be an excellent choice, F1 reported. Whether the 37-year-old Rossi is interested, however, is not known; the two-wheel master tested for Ferrari on a couple of occasions several years ago, but was reportedly uninspired by the highly technical nature of F1 racing.
Three-time F1 champion and Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, normally a talkative sort, declined to speculate in an interview with Blick at the beginning of the month. “It’s all so complicated,” Lauda said.