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Nico who is, and ever shall be, the World Champion of 2016.

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
08/12/2016

Nico Rosberg's retirement was unexpected, but clearly he thinks it was right for him. Some in the media have lamented that Nico will not defend his title, but nobody in motor racing ever does, it is not like boxing. Nico is, and forever will be, the World Champion of 2016. Despite what the media often says, nobody is a former World Champion, they are the champion of a particular year. Come the Australian GP next March and everyone will start on zero points.

The modern driver at Nico's level faces unprecedented levels of stress. Apart from the races and all the travelling they involve, there is now the work on the simulator. There is the rigorous fitness regime and the public appearances and the glad-handing they involve, and the autographs and the selfies. Not everyone is cut out for all that show biz palaver.

I have known drivers with top-level talent who could not fulfil it because they were shy and inarticulate.

The life of a top sportsperson may seem glamorous to those in everyday jobs, but it does involve another flight and another hotel room. You may land in exciting cities, but your time is not your own. Nico has been racing since the age of six, 25 years in the sport, and he has faced what every top sportsperson faces, the time to call it a day.

One person who should understand that is Niki Lauda, though his pronouncements have been less than sympathetic. During practice for the 1979 Canadian GP, Niki pulled into the pits and announced his immediate retirement. He had decided that he no longer wished to 'drive round in circles.'

Three years later, he reconsidered, but the decision he made in Canada was right for him at the time.

Jenson Button signed a deal with McLaren that would see him take 2017 off, to act as an ambassador, with a possible return in 2018 should the team need his experience. Before the last races of 2016, it seemed clear that Jenson had rejected the idea of a return because of a new-found freedom.

David Coulthard has written of his last season being stressful and that he has not missed racing. He also made the point that most of us get stuck in a career and do not have the opportunity to explore other options. David has become a fine broadcaster and he has other business interests.

It is not just drivers, designers also feel trapped. Ross Brawn could have named his salary with most teams, but preferred to go trout fishing. Adrian Newey is retained by Red Bull, and consults on F1, but he has been released to work on a boat for the America's Cup and a hypercar with Aston Martin.

Drivers are as diverse a breed as any collection of people sharing the same job. Michael Schumacher retired at the top of his game and then accepted a return with Mercedes F1. Michael had no need of the money, he needed to race. By contrast, his one-time team-mate, Eddie Irvine, turned his back on racing and has become stonking rich through property development.

Jody Scheckter retired in 1980, a year after his Championship win. He made a mint through simulators for the arms industry and now runs an award-winning organic farm in England. His produce, animal and vegetable, sells on its merits, Jody does flaunt the comparatively short period of his life spent motor racing.

Some drivers can walk away from the sport, others desperately need it. The Belgian, Willy Mairesse, drove for Ferrari, among others, in F1 and sports cars. He was very quick, but also accident-prone. After a serious accident at Le Mans in 1968 he could not get another drive and he committed suicide.

With a top seat up for grabs, the media has had a field day. One UK newspaper headlined Jenson Button, but that was the Western Daily Mail which is sold in Somerset. Like to guess which county Jenson comes from?

One interesting thing is that few seem to have considered that contracts are other than binding, or that it would harm Mercedes if it threw its weight around. They also have to be aware of salary imbalance. Bill Ford was once CEO of the eponymous empire which included Jaguar. He was stunned when he learned that, world-wide, Ford's highest paid employee, including himself, was Eddie Irvine of whom he had not heard.

In my view the mainstream media has acted disgracefully, but that comes as no surprise. It has projected its own wishes on a decision which it cannot make. It is one thing to say, 'In my opinion', it is another to headline wild speculation.

Mercedes has an interest in the careers of Ocon and Wehrlein and may wish to give them more race experience. The team will have a massive amount of information through time on simulators, but that is not the same as race miles. McLaren promoted Kevin Magnussen because of his performance on a simulator, and Red Bull did the same for Max Verstappen. There was a difference on the track.

I have expressed my opinion in private correspondence. Were I Toto Wolff, I would see 2017 as a holding year after which some top drivers, like Fernando Alonso, will have cleared their contracts, while the young chargers will have had a chance to prove themselves.

Were I Toto Wolff, I would be speaking to Felipe Massa about a one year contract. Felipe has set pole 16 times, won 11 Grands Prix, had 41 podium finishes, and he did not retire willingly. He survived being team-mate to Schumacher, Raikkonen and Alonso so being paired with Hamilton should not faze him. Not only that, but so many fans actually like him.

That is my feeling and it is not based on any pretence of special knowledge, it certainly does not merit a headline. By the time you read this the whole issue may have been resolved.

My best wishes go to Nico Rosberg who is, and ever shall be, the World Champion of 2016. He was on pole 30 times, won 23 Grands Prix and was on the podium 57 times. He was also vital to Mercedes F1 in the early days of the team before it became dominant.

History will decide where Nico stands in the great scheme of things. In the meantime we can acknowledge, and celebrate, a driver with a fine record.

Mike Lawrence.

Learn more about Mike and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Ludovico, 18/12/2016 19:13

"Just reverse and turn upside-down Toto Wolff initials and you will have Mike Lawrence's –sort of, with a Janus-head L.

Follow his advice, Toto, and don't worry about Lewis slowing down in the last race of next year, he won't succeed again and perhaps you'll get a third different World Champion for your team –that's better than two, as it's been better two than one, wasn't it? Then you have Alonso in 2018, your fourth World Champion. "

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 13/12/2016 8:53

"A well-argued, well-balanced analysis, with a challenging sting in the tail!
I can't see Massa getting the job. But it's pretty unlikely that Mercedes will prise Verstappen or any other proven young gun away from their current team, so its not quite as weird as it initially sounds. The fact that 2017 is going to be a year of fevered development of the new cars would make Massa's huge experience even more valuable.
"

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3. Posted by TokyoAussie, 13/12/2016 3:51

"The Mercedes seat is a big deal. In 2015 and 2016, the world championship was effectively between 2 drivers, right from the start of both seasons. Next year, who knows. Alonso seems the logical fit to me, but I have no idea about his contract status (whether it has an "out" clause or some such). Massa is an interesting thought, but only as a stopgap, and I can't see Mercedes doing that. We'll soon see."

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4. Posted by Willie, 10/12/2016 2:33

"Nice article; I didn't notice that it was by Mike Lawrence until I'd finished reading it. I should have known -- good job, Mike (as always)."

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5. Posted by Paul C, 09/12/2016 18:31

"Doesn't Mercedes have a test driver who hardly drives on the track but drives forever on the simulator? Let them race for a season and maybe they'll stay in 2018. Otherwise some other driver with F1 experience might suffice. Isn't Piquet Jnr just driving open wheel golf carts (Formula E) currently?"

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6. Posted by GrahamG, 09/12/2016 15:07

"Much as I would love to see Massa do another season in a top car, what's in it for him?. I don't think he needs the money, he's unlikely to beat Hamilton over the year and he has another year of stress and travelling.
A "one year" deal for any of the younger drivers would be an insult - "we don't think you are good enough but we've no alternative until we can sign someone good" how motivating! Be brave and committed to a future, sign someone and give them a realistic contract perhaps with a performance clause.
Don't forget, it could all happen again if Hamilton decides he wants to be a full time rapper and general man about LA and the others teams are getting closer. A proper long term solution, not a "fix" please.

"

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7. Posted by vectis, 09/12/2016 14:57

"nice guy massa , but clearly past it and what mercedes need is a safe pair of hands to back up hamilton
button got bored driving around in an also run car and no long term future at his age ...but the challenge of racing against hamilton for a year ....perfect "

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8. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 09/12/2016 11:26

"Thoughtfull comments, will commonsense prevail and as you suggest will 2017 be a holding year, but Formula One being as it is, like Nico retiring, is there a "did not see that" moment coming? "

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 09/12/2016 0:19

"Thanks Mike! Wonderfully measured comments that so artfully capture the moment I will promptly bin the piece I was writing as it would now serve no purpose!
Historic context, and corporate imperative are two items that many bypass (such as the media outlets you highlight) and as a result miss the complexity of a situation and the nuances of the final decision.
Then, as you rightly point out, a contract simply draws the start positions for a negotiation. All contracts have terms in them for early termination. But as you note, Mercedes coming down like the hammer of Thor on a team and driver to force an early termination could build future issues for Toto to deal with.

I recommend a compromise. Felipe drives ten races for Mercedes next year, and Jenson the other ten.
Every one's a winner...!"

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10. Posted by jcr, 09/12/2016 0:11

"Love This WebSite
IS NOW AND EVER WILL BE 2016 WORLD CHAMPION
NICO, THE MAN !!!!"

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