Formula 1 Roundtable: The Impact of Nico Rosberg’s Retirement

*Editor’s Note: The Motorsports Tribune Formula 1 and IndyCar team got together for a round table discussion following the retirement of World Champion Nico Rosberg less than a week after the F1 season officially ended. They give their thoughts over six topics as we enter a most interesting off-season. 

QUESTION 1: With Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement from Formula 1 just days after capturing his first title, what will be his legacy?

JOEY BARNES, (Editor-in-Chief): The retirement was absolutely staggering, so much so that he could be remembered more for that than his title. However, his legacy is likely to be known as the man who escaped the shadows of his father, Keke Rosberg, the all-time great in Michael Schumacher, and the current ‘best of the best’ in Lewis Hamilton. The resolve he showed this year, I believe, will be his defining moment on a great career.

CHRISTOPHER DEHARDE, (IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer): His legacy will depend on who you ask. His detractors will say that he could not defend his title against Hamilton and his title was there because of Hamilton’s lack of reliability. His supporters will remind people that Rosberg has had Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, Alexander Wurz and Lewis Hamilton as teammates and survived all of them in Formula One. Rosberg will go down as the only German to win a WDC for a German team so far and that probably will define his legacy more than anything.

STEVE AIBEL, (Senior F1 Writer): Times thins the details of each years championship run. The Rosberg legacy will be that of a World Champion who was able to match and exceed that of his father. His legacy will be that who landed his lifelong dream and walkaway while looking down from the top of the mountain.

ADAM TATE, (Associate Editor): His legacy will be like Sinatra, he did it his way. He wasn’t ruthless in the way Schumacher or Hamilton have been. He methodically crafted himself into a champion. The fact that he far surpassed his father will stand out, the fact that he beat a nearly all conquering Hamilton will stand out, but I think he will stand out most for his willingness to walk away from it all. To be a family man, and put his personal live over his sporting life. It feels like a paradigm shift, representative of his place in society as a millennial and a new father which has made it easier for him to sail off into the sunset, championship trophy in hand.

QUESTION 2: Speculation for the vacant Mercedes seat now runs rampant, with even Max Verstappen joking about going there via Twitter, who might we see replace Rosberg for the German squad?

BARNES: Pascal Wehrlein makes the most sense. A Mercedes driver that captured a DTM title who has been biding his time at Manor, he isn’t confirmed anywhere as of yet and now we are about to see if Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda trust him to go from the backmarker squad to the top one. Although, there are several drivers you could make an argument for, and would be neat to see, that’s the one I see happening.

DEHARDE: Verstappen would be a masterstroke signing for the German team but Paschal Wehrlein would probably be the front runner for that seat. However, if Mercedes really wanted to pull a wild card on everybody, they would go after somebody not in F1 that has done some racing for them in DTM and is one of the more underrated drivers in the world in my opinion: Felix Rosenqvist.

TATE: You can bet money that Fernando Alonso will practically be waiting on Toto Wolff’s doorstep, but the odds of McLaren letting him go look slim. I am sure Mercedes wouldn’t mind someone like Jenson Button or Felipe Massa pulling an about face on their decisions to retire, but the smart money may be on Valtteri Bottas. Mercedes could give Williams better power units and a boat load of cash in exchange for the veteran Finn. Right now only one thing is certain and that is the silly season going into overdrive.

AIBEL: What a twist to what had been a relatively settled driver offering. Now you have the most coveted seat in the paddock, the one which rightfully should shine the #1 up for grabs. Every driver representative in the business is now analyzing contracts to see what sort of clauses can be exercised to try and obtain this rider. However, given the upcoming changes to the rules next year, it is not guaranteed that Mercedes will continue on as the dominant team. I think fernando Alonso will be a name bandied about as will Valtteri Bottas. I also think that Max Verstappen will be spoken about but the big names are all long shots. One name that comes to mind for me, is Jenson Button, who was shoved out of McLaren in a bogus deal that he was forced to swallow. A one year deal with Mercedes might be just the ticket.

BARNES: The wild thought on this if they feel a German driver needs to represent the brand – hence maybe a Sebastian Vettel, who has one year left on his Ferrari deal. It’d be interesting to see the faith he has in the Scuderia to progress heading into a year of unknowns. Although, Button does make sense since the team used to be Brawn – the squad he won his lone title with. If Verstappen does leave (and there were those fun talks Wolff had with his dad), that puts Sainz on at Red Bull, but in my opinion, Verstappen moving from Red Bull would not be wise.

AIBEL: If Max moves in, Lewis will move out. They can’t have two drivers who don’t follow instructions!

TATE: A Vettel, Hamilton lineup would answer the definitive question of F1 since 2008 of who the best driver truly is. Fans would love it, but if you thought Rosberg versus Hamilton was intense, Vettel versus Hamilton would truly echo Senna and Prost. It would be a glorious disaster for Mercedes, but they are far too German to make such a rash choice.

QUESTION 3: Revisiting Rosberg, what was his greatest Grand Prix drive or greatest victory?

BARNES: His second career victory, the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix. Starting from pole and dominating to the first of three consecutive there and doing it 30 years after his father. It showed the world that he had crossed over to become a threat for the title.

AIBEL: It is easy to say his World Championship winning drive in Abu Dhabi was his greatest drive in a pressure packed cooker. It is definitely his defining moment, but I always thought Nico was at his best in Monaco. His win streak there between 2013 and 2015 started with a defining drive where he took pole, led every lap and won at home. So for Nico is Monaco comes to mind, the 2013 race weekend in particular. He was dominant there.

TATE: His first career victory, the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix. It marked the first time Mercedes emerged as a front running team rather than an also ran since their return in 2010. Nico dominated the race from pole and won by over 20 seconds to become the first German driver to win in a German team in F1 history and the first win for Mercedes in 57 years. It helped push Mercedes into the all conquering force it is today and proved that Rosberg had what it takes to become a top driver after 6 years in the sport.

DEHARDE: His greatest drive was his last one. He didn’t win, but what made it great was that he knew what he had to do to come out on top in the championship and made it happen, and passing Verstappen was not easy. Rosberg had a lot of pressure on him that weekend and when it counted, he came through.

QUESTION 4: Is Lewis Hamilton now the favorite for the title in a year of unknowns?

BARNES: Put simply – no. I don’t trust the team’s development heading into 2017. I think we could see the most even playing field ever between them, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, whom I think will be dramatically quicker. I’ve been waiting to see the Verstappen versus Vandoorne battle, but I think the ‘even edge’ is between Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. This championship loss is one that I think showed Hamilton’s head isn’t in the sport nearly as much as it used to be.

AIBEL: No idea. The order should shift around with the introduction of the new rules package. Red Bull and Ferrari should rewrite their form and McLaren has been preparing for their return from outer space. So with any luck, we will not endure three more years of one manufacturer dominating what was essentially processional races. The key here, might not ne the changes to the rules, but key figures, who are new to the F1 game, coming aboard and changing the way the sport is produced in the future. Coin flip on Lewis next year.

DEHARDE: Is anybody really the favorite? We’re coming up on a massive rules shakeup and we won’t know until Australia who really has the edge. Stranger things have happened and today is proof.

TATE: No, teams on top rarely stay there when F1 has massive regulation changes, especially recently. Look at Ferrari and McLaren in 2009, or Red Bull in 2014. Mercedes continually honed their car throughout the season in order to maintain their dominance, which means other teams could have diverted more resources to their 2017 designs as their hopes of catching Mercedes were virtually impossible. Therefore Hamilton may still be a front runner in 2017, but he is by no means the favorite.

QUESTION 5: Will we see Rosberg race any post-f1 retirement and if so where?

BARNES: I think so. It’d be fun to see him do some stuff in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but I think, following Mark Webber’s retirement path (which could also be Jenson Button’s as well), he will do some races in WEC. However, there is part of me that wouldn’t be surprised if he is back in Formula 1 again after a year or two sabbatical.

AIBEL: That’s a great question and one that will be exciting to have answered. I think that Nico truly believes he is doing to right thing. Right now, it surely is, but it is hard for a top flight competitor to just snuff the flame. In a few years, I expect to see Nico Rosberg somewhere. Perhaps LeMans or WEC. My guy feeling is that we may even see him return to Formula 1 in a few years time.

TATE: Yes, while it may be easy for him to walk away from F1, it will be much harder to walk away from racing all together. I do think we will see far less of Rosberg than many are expecting. I think he may try Le Mans, or Formula E. If we are lucky he’ll take a shot at the Indy 500, but I think he will limit himself to one offs and occasional appearances.

DEHARDE: A pipe dream would be to see Rosberg in IndyCar after a year or two away but I feel he’ll want to do Le Mans at least once or twice.

QUESTION 6: Lastly, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg – perhaps the saddest year to be an F1 fan and watch them leave the sport, but who had the more memorable career?

BARNES: Although I will forever remember Massa and his 2008 drive and emotions on the podium in Brazil’s finale, and this year’s walk in Brazil. I believe Rosberg had the greatest career, 23 wins, 57 podiums and a win in a head-to-head battle that came with a championship against perhaps the eventual greatest statistically in Lewis Hamilton. All three gave us great memories that will live forever with us.

TATE: That is a very tough and personal question for me. I will go with Felipe Massa. He wasn’t supposed to fight for a title, he was just a replacement for Barrichello, a nice guy, not ruthless enough to be champion. But he studied under Schumacher and and began to thrive. So many variables kept him from the title, but his blistering pace, his character and dignity in defeat were more memorable than anything Jenson or Nico went through. Almost dying in 2009 and Ferrari’s infamous team orders gaffe in Germany 2010 would have done in lesser men. His late career resurgence at Williams came as vindication for a good career that came so close to greatness.

AIBEL: Again, time tends to highlight race wins and World Championships. In this frame, Nico would have the greatest career followed by Button and Massa. Nico walking away on his terms and on top, will further secure his as the best of the three…but he could have been so much more….or could he?

TATE: Had Felipe enjoyed the car advantage Jenson and Nico enjoyed in their title winning seasons, he would have the most wins of them all and three champions would have retired in Abu Dhabi.

AIBEL: Interesting perspective Adam!

DEHARDE: This is a question that can’t be answered from me because all three are equally memorable for different reasons. For Massa, he nearly won the world championship by winning his home race, nearly lost his life the next year yet came back to run near the front in the most demanding form of single seater road racing in the world. For Button, he won the world championship with a team that was saved by its technical director mere weeks before the 2009 season after being abandoned by one of the biggest auto makers in the world. For Rosberg, he survived having numerous experienced teammates and retired on top. How can one be bigger than the other?

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