Nico Rosberg shocked the racing world last Friday by announcing his retirement from Formula One, only five days after clinching the World Championship in Abu Dhabi.
The German announced his retirement at the age of 31 at an FIA ceremony in Vienna when, after accepting the Formula One World Championship, he said: “For 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, this has been my target. And now I have made it, I am on the peak, so this feels right”.
His former teammate and close rival Lewis Hamilton reacted to the news by saying: “He has a family he wants to focus on, and F1 takes so much from you. It is definitely going to be strange. It will be sad not to have him in the team next year.”
Rosberg, whose father Keke Rosberg also won the World Championship in 1982, is not the first Formula One driver to announce his retirement after winning the World Championship. In fact, he is one of four champions to have done this exact thing.
In 1958, after winning his one and only World Championship while driving for Ferrari and becoming the first Englishman to win the World Championship, Mike Hawthorn announced his retirement. Hawthorn left after becoming deeply affected by the death of his teammate Peter Collins during the 1958 German Grand Prix. Hawthorn would also perish in a car accident only six months after retiring from the dangerous motorsport.
The next Formula One driver to retire following a World Championship win actually retired before he won. Jackie Stewart retired in 1973 following the death of his teammate, Francois Cevert, during practice for the 1973 US Grand Prix. Stewart announced his retirement one race before the final race of the season, which would have been his 100th Grand Prix. Despite missing the race, Stewart still won the championship, his 3rd title overall. Stewart, who became a massive advocate for improved safety conditions for drivers following his crash in 1966 at Spa-Francorchamps, would prove influential in the establishment of improved safety regulations in Formula One
The 3rd and final driver to retire from Formula One after winning the world championship, before the retirement of Nico Rosberg, is Alain Prost. The Frenchman, who raced for 15 years and won 4 championships (1985, 1986, 1989, 1993), retired after winning his final championship in 1993.
Rosberg also has one more thing in common with Prost than he has with Hawthorn and Stewart, in that both men retired having not only become world champions, but also with their team having won the Constructors’ Championship. Mercedes won it with Rosberg, while Williams won it in ’93 with Prost.
Much like the departures of Hawthorn, Stewart, and Prost did for their teams, the retirement of Nico Rosberg leaves Mercedes in a sticky situation with regards to selecting his successor. Whether the company promotes from within (Pascal Wehrlein), or brings in somebody like Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, or Max Verstappen, Mercedes will want to act decisively and quickly in choosing Lewis Hamilton’s next partner.