A few weeks ago I spoke to Tom Kristensen, the most successful Le Mans driver in history, and asked him why he decided to retire from a sport he clearly loved and dominated.
As a way of answering he said he had asked the same question of former drivers Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx and they told him that he wouldn’t understand but that he would know when the time was right to call it quits.
There was no specific reason but he just knew in his heart that it was over. He had written his own chapter in the history of Le Mans with a record nine victories and he felt comfortable walking away as a true legend.
Nico Rosberg clearly felt the same way, in that he knew that having achieved his childhood dream, the time was right to call it a day as a Formula One driver.
But the reason his decision will go down as one of the biggest shocks in Formula One history, apart from the fact it came just five days after winning the crown, is that he is only 31, is at the peak of his career and has only won one world championship.
And that, with all due respect, is not enough to leave any lasting impression on a sport where the legends are multiple title winners.
That is one of the reasons why I think this was a brave decision by Rosberg and you have to respect him for it because he knows that there are many out there who will be hugely disappointed that he has chosen not to defend his title at least once.
Having finally beaten his nemesis, team-mate Lewis Hamilton, after playing bridesmaid to the Brit for two seasons which must have worn him down psychologically, you would think he would want to prove that this had nothing to do with luck with many pointing to Hamilton’s engine failures as the reason the German pipped the defending champion to the title.
We said we'd be champions back then, now we both are! Congratulations Nico, you did everything a champion needed to do. Well deserved 🙌🏾 pic.twitter.com/CIFPw1K2Fq— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) November 30, 2016
Unfortunately, the Rosberg/Hamilton rivalry has come to an end but I am sure it has nothing to do with a lack of confidence or running scared of Hamilton – not that I think he would be able to defend his title because I think Lewis is a better driver and I expect him to win the world championship next year.
However, it has everything to do with knowing instinctively the time is right to go. Let’s face it, Rosberg is unlikely to turn his back on the three years that remain on his Mercedes contract, which is worth in the region £18.3m [85m AED] per season, if he had not planned ahead to a certain degree.
Rosberg is a smart guy and, importantly, he is also a dad with a young daughter and there is absolutely no question that his family – and he wants more children – will have played an important role in his decision. Formula One, even with all the safety precautions, is still a dangerous sport.
Rosberg walks away from Formula One after 206 races, 23 victories, 57 podiums, 30 pole positions and one world title which puts him in a league of good, not great drivers.
He deserved his title this season because he drove intelligently and proved he could handle the pressure when the going got really tough, particularly during the final ten laps of the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
We will find out soon enough who will replace him at Mercedes, but in the meantime, for me, the sadness of Rosberg’s decision is that he will not be remembered first and foremost as a world champion, but a driver who stunned the sport by turning his back and walking away.
I hope he doesn’t live to regret it because that would be a great shame. Formula One will miss him.
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