Nico Rosberg: F1 world champion becomes eco warrior
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So abrupt was Nico Rosberg’s exit from Formula One, and so startling to the sport that had consumed his life, that a sense of rootlessness was to be expected. Two years down the road from his stunningly early retirement, he reflects how, in the immediate aftermath, he felt all but devoid of direction.
“The more you are in the public eye, the more difficult it becomes,” says the German, now an eco-entrepreneur and still the only person since 2013 to have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the world title.
“If you were to stop your job tomorrow and become a cook, that would be a serious break. You would have moments thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ You lose your identity in a way.”
One moment, Rosberg was winning seven straight races en route to dethroning his childhood nemesis. The next, he was walking away for good, a one-and-done champion, his coronation in Abu Dhabi in 2016 his final competitive moments in an F1 car.
He craved, it seemed, a quieter existence, swapping the razzle dazzle of the paddock for a spell helping his wife Vivian run an ice cream parlour in Ibiza.
It was, he discovered, a disorientating change of pace.“When you’re at the summit of F1, the feeling of purpose is huge,” he explains.
“It took over every day of my life, from morning to evening. That was the only way to beat Lewis, to give 100 per cent dedication. Suddenly, that disappears. You’re starting with a blank sheet of paper - there’s nothing. It’s quite a powerful shift.”
And yet the satisfaction he derived from vanquishing Hamilton was more potent still.A prevailing view of his departure was that Rosberg had simply grown exhausted of his jousts with Hamilton, once his karting rival, and that the psychological strain was too great to be sustained any longer.
He refutes this version, though, arguing that his maiden championship was the ultimate exclamation point on his decade-long F1 career.
“If I hadn’t won, I would have continued at that level,” he says. “But the way I won, achieved my dream, offered the perfect moment to close the chapter. Going out on a high has been so powerful for the rest of my life. I’m still being carried by it now. It’s beautiful.”
The Schaeffler Mover. Picture/Supplied
Given that Hamilton has since reached his sport’s rarefied uplands, becoming a quintuple champion and extending his record of pole positions here in Melbourne to a staggering 84, one wonders if Rosberg curtailed his time at the top too soon.
But he does not resemble a man agonising over what might have been. Indeed, he draws a parallel between his sporting ending and that of Andy Murray, forced into a tearful acknowledgement this winter that his injured hip would prevent him from continuing in elite tennis.
Where one 31-year-old had the luxury of bowing out at the pinnacle, another has been denied the chance to script his last act.
“I have so much empathy for someone like Andy,” Rosberg says. “He knows that he can be out there dominating, but his body just can’t take it. My God, it’s so horrible. I know how much it gave me to retire on my own terms.”
For all that Toto Wolff, formerly his team principal at Mercedes, has mischievously raised the prospect of a Rosberg return, he is adamant that he has no yearnings to rejoin the fray.
While he has committed to punditry roles with Sky and German network RTL, this is as far as his involvement extends.
“I’m fulfilled, there’s nothing missing. I’m happy to see everybody - so long as it’s only for seven weekends a year.”
One day, perhaps when Rosberg considers a memoir, the full truth about his relationship with Hamilton will emerge. At times, the dynamic between them was visibly toxic, not least when a victorious Hamilton threw a cap for second place at his team-mate, only to see it hurled straight back.
For now, his lauding of his old adversary is polite, but perfunctory.
“Whoever thought it would be possible for Lewis to go after Michael Schumacher’s records? It’s just madness. I’m proud to have raced next to him, and to have managed to beat him. That’s about it,” he says.
These days, Rosberg is devoting his greatest energies to green technology and electric cars, announcing the inaugural Green Tech Festival in Berlin in May, to coincide with a Formula E race in the city.
Increasingly, it is big business: even James Bond has muscled in on the act, with 007‘s next film to feature a zero-emissions Aston Martin.
For Rosberg, it is a passion that runs deep, prompting him to unveil the Schaeffler Mover - a green urban vehicle that can drive sideways and even spin on its own axis - with his company TRE Engineering, originally started by his father, Keke.
“When I left F1, I had no idea about anything other than driving around in circles fast,” he says. “I was looking for a fresh challenge, and I have found it in eco-technologies, because there is such an opportunity there to make an impact. The point will come when F1 needs to have a look at what kind of powertrain it’s using. If, in 10 years’ time, the rest of the world is on electric, then F1 can’t still be running a combustion engine. It wouldn’t make any sense.”
Rosberg takes his eco-warrior credentials seriously, having attended the World Economic Forum in Davos and staged discussions on climate change with everybody from Matt Damon to Sir David Attenborough.
“What was shocking to me was how pessimistic they were. It’s the 11th hour now. It’s urgent that we make genuine progress.”
His foray into such a fast-expanding industry also completes his search for an encore to his F1 feats.
“I reached my absolute maximum in my first life, I couldn’t go any higher,” Rosberg says, proudly. “Now, at last, I can go for my second life.”
-The Daily Telegraph