The word “shocking” gets thrown around a lot, especially in sports, and often it is not warranted. But Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula One just five days after finally winning his first world championship is truly a shock.
No one—no one—foresaw this. Well, maybe Mrs. Rosberg, but nobody outside his inner circle.
But listening to his reasoning, it is not shocking at all. We like to view professional athletes as single-minded obsessives, focused only on getting faster or stronger or scoring more goals—but the fact is, there are a lot of things in life more important than sports.
Family is one of them, and Nico Rosberg clearly understands that.
Dear fans, thx for your support over the years! 🙌🏻🙌🏻 pic.twitter.com/RDSQgGjFY8
— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) December 2, 2016
In his retirement announcement, he acknowledged the toll the F1 lifestyle has taken on his wife and his young daughter. With a 21-race calendar, even travelling by private jet, drivers are away from home for five or six days almost every two weeks, not to mention testing, development work at the factory and sponsorship commitments. That schedule is not conducive to any sort of normal family life.
They are well-paid for all of that work, but even a million dollars doesn’t replace the missed time with their families.
And there is also the inherent danger in the sport to consider. Jules Bianchi’s death last year reminded everyone just how hazardous it can be.
In The Cruel Sport, Robert Daley wrote of Phil Hill that, “He was not married, did not think a racing driver had a right to marry, and did not marry himself until his racing days were over.”
Of course, Hill raced in a very different time than Rosberg—a time when driver fatalities were a regular occurrence—but his point is still relevant today.
Thankfully, grand prix deaths are now a rarity, but the sport cannot be considered “safe.” Not when 22 cars are blasting around a circuit at 350 km/h. Now that Rosberg has a family of his own, a daughter relying on him, the fundamental danger of his profession must have factored into his considerations.
And perhaps now that Rosberg has achieved his lifelong goal, he does not feel the same burning desire necessary to succeed in F1. Being a grand prix driver takes an extraordinary level of commitment, not only in the cockpit, but outside, too, as the requirements of the sport necessitate constant training and strict diets.
If Rosberg’s accomplishments this year and his home life have sapped some of his desire and enthusiasm to race, then it is only fair to step away from Mercedes, who are paying his multimillion-dollar salary.
Slowly realizing what happened yesterday. I guess I have a third 🏆 now 😍😍😍 pic.twitter.com/0FBpAur10Y
— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) November 28, 2016
Rosberg’s decision isn’t unprecedented, either. In 1958, Mike Hawthorn won the drivers’ championship for the first time and retired shortly thereafter (at the time, Motor Sport cited newspaper reports that his decision was related to the new engine formula that had been announced for 1961).
Rosberg will likely face some criticism for leaving Mercedes in the lurch, particularly if the team is unable to sign another top-flight driver for 2017, but he has to do what is best for him and his family. You can bet if Mercedes decided they no longer wanted him on the team, they would not think twice about dumping him with no warning.
And besides, Rosberg’s decision will end up being good for the sport. Max Verstappen’s promotion to Red Bull this year provided some excitement in amidst Mercedes’ dominance. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have won 51 of the 59 races since the start of 2014. Even if the Silver Arrows’ hegemony continues in 2017, at least there will be a fresh face in one of the cars to win some races.
And Rosberg will be watching from his Monaco penthouse, with his daughter in his lap, a world champion.
(Image credit: Nico Rosberg via Twitter)