The Formula One world was shocked on Friday afternoon, as reigning world champion Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport, just five days after claiming the crown in Abu Dhabi. At the FIA’s annual prize giving ceremony, the 31-year-old German told the assembled press that this season would be his last, as he had ‘reached his peak’ of winning the world championship, and that he was looking forward to spending more time with his family.
With a job now available with the best team in F1, many drivers will be hoping for their chance to shine in the Mercedes next season. The early favourite for the job is Pascal Wehrlein, who is currently contracted to the team as their reserve driver, and scored one point in his debut season for Manor. Another name with Mercedes links that could get the job is Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with some in the paddock expecting Mercedes to offer Williams a discount on engines, in exchange for the Finn’s services.
There are of course, two more ambitious options for the seat, both of which would almost certainly lead to the conflict that was seen throughout the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel grew more and more discontented with the Italian team as the season progressed, as he failed to win any races in 2016, with reliability and strategy problems costing him on the rare occasions when Ferrari had the pace. Although him and Lewis currently get on, it is unlikely this would last once the two are competing in the same team. Another option would be McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, with the 35-year-old likely to be desperate for a chance to win his first world title since 2006. The two were famously teammates at McLaren in 2007, with the two somehow conspiring to lose the championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Both drivers are a lot older and wiser than they were back then, although it would not be a surprise if this partnership turned out to be another one-season deal.
Many other drivers are likely to be on Mercedes’ radar. The Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both have the pace and youth to serve as good long-term options, but it is unlikely the Austrian team will allow their biggest rivals to poach their drivers. Despite his retirement, it is possible that Britain’s Jenson Button could be tempted to return for one last season at Mercedes, where he won the championship in 2009 under the Brawn name, if McLaren are willing to let him out of his ambassadorial contract. In short, practically every driver on the grid for this season, has been linked as Rosberg’s replacement for next, with even Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda admitting that ‘half the grid’ had been in contact.
Only Nico will truly know the reasons behind his retirement. Maybe he knew it was unlikely he’d be able to beat Hamilton once again in 2017, and that it had taken too much out of him this year. Maybe fatherhood has meant that it isn’t worth the risk to him anymore, especially after the death of Jules Bianchi in 2015. But whatever the motive behind it, there is no better way of bowing out of your sport than on top, and Rosberg will forever be immortalised as a Formula One world champion.
Featured image: Mercedes