Anyone who knows what it is like to have a tiny bundle of humanity run up to you with a huge smile on a fresh little face, can understand Nico Rosberg’s desire to retire. Money, fame and glory are fine, but for those who achieve such things, the world becomes a rather different place. Partners and kids become more important.
Nico’s decision to quit F1 at the early age of 31 is a reminder, for those who need it, that there is more to life than motor racing.
And it is not really new. It’s been done before. Britain’s first Formula 1 World Champion Mike Hawthorn quit immediately after he won the title in 1958. He was 29. OK, it was different then and Hawthorn had been deeply shaken by the death of his team-mate and friend Peter Collins earlier that year, but he planned to get married. Secretly, he was suffering from a kidney problem and had been told he would not live beyond 30. That turned out to be true, although his death, soon after his retirement, came at the wheel of his road car, while racing Rob Walker on the Guildford bypass.
Sir Jackie Stewart retired relatively young, at 34, after winning his third title. He had lost too many friends. James Hunt quit at 32, having lost interest in taking risks. His great rival Niki Lauda (now chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas) did it too, at 30, after two titles, fed up with “driving round in circles”. He went off and built an airline, but then returned to F1 to win another title years later.
The 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter quit at 30 and never came back. He founded a company designing and manufacturing firearms training simulators and made a second fortune, before turning to organic farming having acquired Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire.
Mika Hakkinen stopped at 33 after two titles and a near-death experience, while Kimi Raikkonen seemed lost after his title in 2007 and, at the age of 30, went off to spend several fruitless years in rallying before returning to F1.
Finding the desire to keep going after one has achieved one’s goals is not a given. F1 may not be as dangerous as once it was in earlier times, and danger was often the reason for drivers to retire young, but time waits for no man and let us not forget that Nico has seen his old team-mate Michael Schumacher end up where he now is, by an awful twist of fate. Such things make one appreciate that the one thing over which we never have control is time.
Most of us spend our lives on the treadmill, running along like hamsters in their wheels, keeping the banks happy. We cannot just walk away and live happily ever after. We dream about it.
We also know that very few can drift along doing nothing. We need goals and targets, just as we need families. One can survive with greed, ambition and party girls, but they feel like pretty hollow motivations when you watch your children grow up and when you share your life with a special partner. Nico is a man who knows what he wants and also understands his limitations. He has achieved his goal and once is enough. Doing it again is of little interest. He’s not running away. He’s not a coward, nor frightened. He just doesn’t need it any more and we should respect that and respect his desire to enjoy time with his wife, Vivian, and their young daughter Alaïa.
Nico is a very quick driver who worked closely with his engineers to find more speed from the car. He never had the same natural talent as Lewis Hamilton, but he worked at it, he had steely determination and he bounced back from crushing defeats. He was never able to hold a candle to Lewis in uncertain conditions, as we saw recently in Brazil. Nico understood this, but never accepted that this made success impossible. Winning can also come from hard work and determination. There is a school of thought – and plenty of evidence to back it up – that Michael Schumacher knew deep down that he wasn’t as gifted as Mika Hakkinen and so he strove to be successful by working harder, testing more and being fitter.
Stardom is not easy and one always had a sense that Nico was never really comfortable with it. He tended to come across as someone playing a role rather than being totally himself. It is not unusual. I suspect that, as and when he comes back to visit F1 – if he ever does – Nico will be more relaxed and able to engage more. I hope so.