enough, before F1’s summer break, he’d
lost the championship lead to Lewis.
At that point, based on previous
scenarios, you’d have put your money on
Hamilton taking a third consecutive title.
Look back to the 2014 run-in when, time
after time, Rosberg put himself into
race-winning positions ahead of Hamilton,
but threw them away, eventually losing the
title in the final race. Would that fragility,
that inability to seal the deal when
everything was on the line, reappear now?
Instead, perhaps the most remarkable
thing about the 2016-spec Rosberg was
his new-found resilience. Every time he
was seemingly knocked out, he got back
up, regrouped and came back fighting.
Maybe you can trace that back to his run
of wins and poles at the end of 2015,
when Nico convinced himself a head-to-head with Lewis was winnable? Or maybe
it was just the clarity of purpose that
came with knowing this was his last shot?
But that strength became ever more
clear as 2016 progressed.
The defining moment was the way
Rosberg closed it out in Abu Dhabi. An
easy second place? Forget that. Hamilton,
quite rightly, did everything he could to
create the conditions for Rosberg to
make a mistake under pressure. By
backing up the field, particularly in the
closing stages, he ensured his teammate
was asked every possible question over
almost 100 agonizing minutes. Rosberg
described his pass for second on Max
Verstappen as “the most intense
moment of my career.” It probably was.
“That last race was absolutely crazy; it
was unbelievably horrible,” he said. “I lost
the championship at least three times in
that race in my head, it was gone.”
Is Rosberg the fastest grand prix driver
of the current era? No – although his ability
to nail a great qualifying lap in the past
three years has been impressive. Was he
the best driver of 2016? No – you can argue
Hamilton, and Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen
and Daniel Ricciardo were all superior.
But was he a worthy champion?
Absolutely. Championships are won
during the moments of greatest pressure,
by delivering week after week under the
most intense of circumstances. Of course,
you can have a bit of luck come in to play,
but nobody handed this to Rosberg on a
plate. He had to earn it.
And earn it he did, just as he has the
right to retire on his own terms and dictate
the course of his own life. Rosberg came,
saw and conquered in Formula 1, and
nobody can ever take that away from him.
And now, he’s earned the right to live his
life any way he chooses. Good luck to him.
(LEFT) Pressure-relief valve: Nico
Rosberg’s sheer joy
after earning the
2016 F1 title was
obvious. Polite as
always, he did ask his
team for permission
before doing donuts...
Not that we knew it at the
time, but Nico Rosberg’s
calm demeanor before the
Abu Dhabi finale was in
part due to decisions he’d
already made on his future.