There are Formula 1 drivers to whom winning is everything—the only thing that gives their existence meaning. Guys like Ayrton Senna, who famously said: “I am not designed to come second or third; I am designed to win.” Or Michael Schumacher, who was so hooked on winning that he just had to come out of retirement at the age of 41 even with a record seven titles to his name. Or like Lewis Hamilton, who so cringes at the thought of losing that he actually accuses his own team of sabotaging him whenever he suffers a mechanical breakdown.
To these men, life is a boring endeavor away from the top of the podium. It tastes flat minus the bubbly sparkle of champagne being sprayed in their faces. And it most definitely lacks motivation without that first-corner tussle with equally ruthless racing drivers.
Maybe it’s why many of them can’t walk away completely from the sport after quitting, preferring to stick around as team bosses or as TV analysts, whatever the available job is.
And then there’s Nico Rosberg, the newly crowned 2016 F1 champ, who duplicated the feat of his father Keke against all odds. After finally clinching the drivers’ title on November 27 in Abu Dhabi, the 31-year-old German announced his unexpected retirement, refusing to defend his laurels in 2017 and concluding an 11-year career in the series.
In case you missed it, here’s what he said (in italics):
In 25 years of racing, it has been my dream—my one thing—to become Formula 1 world champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain. I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.
This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years. They fueled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too. It was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between races, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting our championship first.
When I won the race in Suzuka—from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands—the big pressure started, and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race, and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time. And then the lights went out, and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening.
The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a tough situation. But Toto (Wolff, Mercedes team boss) understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced, and that reassured me. My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people, the Silver Arrows.
Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. 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.
With those stirring words, Nico Rosberg bid farewell to the life of an F1 driver—the only life he’d known so far, having spent his childhood in the paddocks as his dad chased his own championship dreams. It was an announcement that surprised everyone but his wife. A reigning champion, still in the prime of his skills, is turning his back on all the money, all the glamor, all the adoring fans just to spend more time with his family (he has a one-year-old daughter).
I don’t know if you can find many men who’ll do that. “A classy move from a classy man,” opined BBC F1 writer Andrew Benson. That’s the best summation of this, period. In a world where the ultimate goal is to go viral and acquire fame and fortune, here’s somebody who’s taking the opposite route and giving importance to the people who truly matter. Most guys are merely forced to retreat to a domestic life due to irrevocably sad circumstances—either because their dwindling capabilities are already an embarrassment, or because there are no more teams willing to hire them. Rosberg, on the other hand, is leaving as one of the sport’s hottest commodities. Yes, just when sponsors are surely preparing to knock on his door to make him their ambassador, with untold riches waiting to get funneled into his personal coffers. To ignore all this just to be able to play the role of father and husband is nothing short of heroic, an achievement more impressive than Sebastian Vettel’s four straight championships.
Because if you think about it, once you’ve won the championship, what else is there to gain? A title is a title, and it’s the same whether you win it one time or multiple times. Schumacher amassed more than double Senna’s total haul of three, and it’s still the latter everyone is hailing as the greatest ever. So what’s the point?
A family, however, is all your own. You grow old with them. Nobody takes them away from you just because your car is no longer superior. It’s not too dumb a decision to give up your celebrity and megabucks for them. They’re more than worth it.
There’s a video of Nico at six years old, being lovingly trained by his father to drive a kart. You can see in the footage that the Rosberg household got it right from the start: Even in the limelight of F1 eminence, they have their priorities straight.
Naturally, the self-absorbed teammate Lewis Hamilton—perhaps realizing Rosberg is now reaping praises around the world for his decision—is quick to shoot down the new champion’s meritorious reason for leaving. “This is the first time he’s won (a title) in 18 years, so it was not a surprise that he decided to stop,” Hamilton was quoted by Reuters as saying.
You can’t blame douchebags for thinking that the only thing worth living for is personal glory. But one day, when all is said and done, they’ll find out they can’t ask a trophy to hold their hand as they heave their last, dying breath. Possibly right after they hit a tire wall at 250km/h.