- 16 Feb 2017
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Why Did Nico Really Leave F1?
Four days after becoming the Formula 1 Champion you said you no longer wanted to make the sacrifices that racing required of you but didn’t offer a further explanation?
For as long as I can remember, I have been pursuing this one goal: to become World Champion. This was my ultimate dream as a child. There was nothing higher I could achieve. To succeed in sports, you need to be willing to make sacrifices. Everything else has to take a backseat, even family. So I’d see my friends going on skiing holidays together and posting about it on Facebook, and I’d miss out due to training or something. At that level it’s all about total commitment. The final phase of the Championship was as intense as it gets. I was so close to my childhood dream and I was up against Lewis again ... I had lost the Championship to him in the very last race once before, in 2014.
The thought of losing to him again must have been agonising.
I was having very intense thoughts, yes. Continually.
Were you consumed with the about beating him from the moment you woke up in the morning to the moment you went to sleep at night?
No. The thoughts came in the middle of the night. I would wake up, and they were there instantly. That was really hard. But thanks to my mindfulness training, I was able to stay focused and remain in the here and now. I had learned to notice when my thoughts ran in some crazy direction. It’s so easy to lose yourself when that happens, to become overwhelmed by everything. But I knew what to do to keep on track and stay focused on what mattered most. I’m sure this played a major role in helping me make my last race my best race.
This will be the first time in 12 years that you’re not competing in F1. How does your new-found freedom feel?
I’m not the kind of guy who can lie on a beach for months on end, so I’m already looking for new challenges, new areas in which to compete. The thrill of competition is something you can find away from the racetrack, too – in the world of business, for instance. I’ll be watching the races avidly though. And I’ll be keeping my fingers tightly crossed for the Mercedes team. They are my racing family, after all.
Back in October 2015, in Austin, Texas, a serious error on your part saw you forfeiting the World Championship title. Afterwards, you withdrew from the limelight mull over what had happened. You referred to this as a turning point in your career. Why?
It was an in- credibly difficult time. But as crushing as the defeat was, it inspired an urgency I had never experienced before. I felt levels of motivation I didn’t know were even possible. I knew one thing for certain: that I never wanted to go through that again. Ever. That degree of suffering gives you strength.
But when your thoughts start to run away with you, there is no one who can help. Is loneliness the price elite athletes have to pay for success?
Yes, absolutely. A certain degree of loneliness is part and parcel at this level of competition. But it also gives you a sense of focus without which you would not succeed.
Have you ever felt that the price of success was too high, that it changed you too much?
No, I’ve never felt that way. I’ve always been too ambitious, too competitive in striving for my goals.
For how long can a top athlete maintain that level of focus?
You can’t keep it up forever. That’s just not possible.
Can you think of any sportsmen or women in major individual sports who has managed to withstand that intensity for longer periods?
There are very, very few. I can only think of Michael Schumacher. He managed. He gave his all so relentlessly. Always taking things a step further. But he is pretty unique in that sense. <
What was the best thing about Formula 1 for you?
Whenever I managed to beat all the others. That’s what it’s all about after all. The feeling of elation you get standing up there on the podium – there’s nothing like it. Last year, on crossing the finish line, I felt pure relief. The final circuits had been so intense, so nerve-racking. The first time I felt joy was when I heard Vivian, my wife, speaking to me over the radio. It was such a personal moment, as if we were having a morning chat with each other in the bedroom. And all my tension just fell away.
A lot of top athletes don’t seem to have a propensity for happiness.
I can relate to that. I’ve often felt that way. After a race is always before a race. You’re always chasing victory, always expected to deliver more. It’s exhausting and yet normal.
At the beginning of your career you were constantly being compared with your father, Keke Rosberg.
Yes, it’s always been that way. It was never a bad thing, though – it just got a bit annoying. Now I feel happy about being compared to him.
Yes, because I’m grateful to my parents, to my family. My dad has always strongly supported my career; he helped open doors for me all the way up to Formula 1. As soon as I broke into Formula 1, he withdrew. This is one of the reasons why I’m sitting here as World Champion. He managed to let go at the right moment. I’m sure that’s a really tough thing to do for a dad.
You are now a father yourself; your daughter is one-and-a-half years old.
Oh yes, and I can already sense that letting go will be one of the most difficult things I’ll ever have to do. So I can appreciate what my dad did for me back then. And I intend to manage it myself when the day comes.
At least you’ll have more time to take your blue Mercedes 280 SL Pagoda out for jaunts around the South of France.
The coast here boasts the most amazing drives in the world. But my car is not an ‘every day’ vehicle. I want it to retain its specialness.
Is it true that you dress well before getting behind the wheel?
It is indeed. I make the effort to look smart. I put on a posh jacket, make sure I look stylish. It is an old-timer – I need to treat it well or it will lose its lustre.
• Finn Valtteri Bottas take s over from Nico Rosberg on the Mercedes- AMG Petronas team in the new season. The 27-year-oldspent the past four years driving for Williams, achieving nine podium finishes in 77 races. Nico will continue to support the team in 2017 as an ambassador.
* Channel your inner Nico Roseberg on the Zwartkops Raceway in Centurion with an AMG Driving Academy advanced driving course.
WORDS: RÜDIGER BARTH. IMAGES: SUPPLIED.