Nico Rosberg shocked the world with the announcement he would be retiring from F1 after reaching the top of the summit. Well, shocked everyone except teammate Lewis Hamilton. His former best friend and championship protagonist managed to turn the news into another demonstration of his negative attitude.
After a belated congratulation to Nico on Twitter, he sat in a press conference looking smug that the German had left the sport and claimed to have not been moved by the news. He got the dig in that it was the first time Nico had won in eighteen years, so he wasn’t surprised he was packing it all in. The implication – in fact, direct statement – is that he always defends his crown, whereas Rosberg has run away from the challenge.
This is classic Lewis, only seeing the world through his eyes, judging others by the standards he sets himself. Standards that have recently, once again, been called into question. The old adage about being a bad winner and a bad loser will now follow Lewis around until he retires. He hinted that could also be soon but it was likely bravado, an attempt to steal back some of the limelight.
What Hamilton and Rosberg present us is a unique opportunity to see the two sides of the same coin. That coin being what it takes and what it means to be a champion.
Lewis Hamilton is the natural born talent. Billed as the fastest man but this doesn’t – and hasn’t – made him a true champion. He’s the idea of a perfect racer, the deserving winner. The reality is a guy that has off days, managing to cover up his shortcomings with the attitude of a spoilt brat. But distraction and misdirection have helped build a legend.
Hamilton’s talent speaks for itself. Any Formula One fan will tell you he’s one of, if not the greatest, driver of his generation. Perhaps only Fernando Alonso could be said to have more raw talent but poor career moves have damaged his chances to prove this. Sebastian Vettel has amassed more titles, he being the opposite to Alonso and benefitting from an extended run in the dominant car of the day.
A look at the list of F1 records and it’s clear to see Lewis will leave a lasting legacy, one that only the most gifted can achieve. He has scored more points than any other man in the history of the sport (admittedly, he benefits from the new scoring system); he ties with Michael Schumacher and Vettel for most podiums in a season; is third in the all-time list for podium finishes with a higher percentage of podiums than Prost and Schumacher above him; third for total poles behind Senna and Schumacher; most wins at different circuits.
The list goes on, he appears in most categories in a high position, and tops fifteen of the all-time charts (many from his debut season run). That side of Lewis Hamilton cannot be doubted. It is what’s led to him becoming a champion. It’s also what separates him and Nico.
One is driven to go on, smash records. One content and complete following the ultimate success. For Rosberg, reaching the pinnacle was the end of a journey. Each step of that the German was mindful of how a champion should behave, something that has eluded Lewis.
Hamilton’s ultimate goal is to be mentioned as an equal to Senna and Schumacher. He’s mistaken their ruthlessness and transformed it into petulant behaviour and entitlement. They could never accept defeat with a smile but they wouldn’t tarnish the fair success of others.
Lewis attempted this following the Abu Dhabi grand prix. In an interview with Channel 4, he was offered a chance to pay respect to the new champion and was asked if on this occasion, Nico had won in a fair fight with the same car. Hamilton openly scoffed and said: “I wouldn’t say that. No.”
The Briton has been unlucky with failures this season. Those are elements beyond his control. The “what ifs” aren’t helpful and take away from Nico’s hard work. They also cover up the moments he made mistakes that hindered his championship push. Had his starts been more consistent, the mechanical failures wouldn’t have mattered.
Also, as Lewis points out, he’s the only Mercedes driver (including customer teams) to have suffered failures. Rather than this point to a conspiracy, it should be a pause for consideration. It seems reasonable the most ragged, on the edge racer would ramp up engine modes more frequently. It’s possible his racing style took the finite life out of the engines at a faster rate.
But Lewis has never taken a gracious approach to failure or the success of others, why should he look inward for problems when he can blame imaginary “higher powers” within the team.
Nico Rosberg may lack the God-given minerals that make Lewis a natural competitor but there is more than one way to be a success. He has become champion through focus and dedication, hard work and sacrifice. These alone aren’t what make him the opposite side of the champions’ coin: it’s his demeanour and attitude.
Rosberg was the ultimate professional. He took his setbacks with a smile, the lips sealed to avoid uncomfortable comments that could come back to haunt him. Working alongside Schumacher and then Hamilton, he never looked out of place as a driver, he was more than an equal with how to present himself.
For all of Lewis’s derogatory antics, Rosberg has the last laugh. Hamilton will never be able to wrest the crown from his head. He retires undisputed champion with nothing left to prove.
People will claim he was scared to defend the title, and while Hamilton would still have been favourite going into the new season, it wouldn’t have been shocking had Rosberg retained. Just as the Brit wasn’t surprised by Rosberg’s retirement, no one would have been by another close challenge from the German. The psychological hold over Rosberg had been broken.
And why should Rosberg satisfy Hamilton’s desire to recapture the title by beating him? Lewis talks of how he’s always allowed people the chance to challenge for his crown as some act of nobility. Rosberg has been the noble man of the pairing and doesn’t need to hinder his personal life to please the wants of a self-centred man-child.
Hamilton’s recent comments will remove any doubts about the content of his character and anything lingering in Rosberg’s mind about whether it was a decent exit strategy.
He retires proving the adage “nice guys come last” to be codswallop. As a nice guy, he came first. Technically less times than Lewis this season, but first where it mattered most: top of the championship standings and attitude stakes.
Lewis will most likely repeat the former of those himself – he’s too talented to avoid a fourth title (unless he falls foul of the decisions that have blighted Alonso’s career path) – for the latter he’ll need further education on behaviour and mental approach.
Hamilton lacked the gracious, humble approach a decent gentleman would having taken following the climax of the Abu Dhabi grand prix. But he can learn from these mistakes as long as he takes constructive criticism on board. There were enough former drivers and champions highlighting the error. A good man has open ears.
Nico Rosberg was the man who didn’t need such lessons. He bided his time and struck when the opportunity arose. He leaves the sport as the perfect example of how a champion should carry themselves.
He drives into the future with the number 1 pasted to his car for all eternity