The Sunday Mail
IT seems slightly odd to be talking about sacrifices when you are a multi-millionaire son of an even richer father while sitting close to your Monaco apartment on the hills above the aquamarine tints of the Mediterranean.
This is how it is for Nico Rosberg, the Formula One world champion who walked out of his high-speed business just five days after realising his lifetime’s dream by taking the title against his oldest rival, team-mate and sometime friend Lewis Hamilton.
In his first major interview since he stunned the wider sporting public by going out at the top, forgoing his £18 million-a-year contract to drive on at Mercedes, he talks more candidly than he could when he was in the maelstrom of the biggest contest of his life, the battle he won at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November.
He paints a picture of a man who squeezed out every drop of his talent in a one-off attempt to do what he had never managed before in any series: beat his old karting pal over the course of a season.
By sacrifice, he raised himself to a level of intensity he could never hope to replicate.
One small example: “I stopped cycling in the summer to lose one kilo,” he says. “The next race I was on pole in Suzuka by one hundredth of a second. One kilo is worth three hundredths per lap. So I was on pole thanks to losing my leg muscles. It got me the win. Those were the small details I went into.”
Now he sits in his seat, with the Med over his left shoulder, and declares himself “very relaxed”. He says: “Start wherever you want.”
Well, let’s start at the end of his career, with that momentous decision to quit aged 31, an upheaval that some observers thought he should have mulled over to be certain his mind was settled.
Others said he should defend his title.
“I can tell you this,” he says. “My Formula One career book is closed with the most awesome ending I could have imagined. And I love books that end happily.
“I am turning my life upside down, so it will be full of challenges. The underlying belief, however, is that it felt totally right. I am following my heart.
“Now I am excited because of all the freedom I have. When I was racing I was in a hamster wheel, a good one, of course, and I am so thankful for everything it gave me. I wouldn’t do anything differently.
“But to be the best in your sport you have to make a lot of compromises. Now I look at my calendar for March and it’s totally white, blank from start to finish. I can decide to explore whatever I want to. It’s about spending more time with my family, which last year was a serious shortcoming.”
His decision to retire had been percolating in his mind since that leg muscle-light Suzuka win, the one that put the title in his own hands. He spoke briefly to his wife, Vivian, about it before the final race.
He says she would have supported him carrying on, but deep down favoured his coming home rather than risking his limbs further.
They spoke about it again on the night of his championship win. But it took all his courage to inform his team principal at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, calling him rather than sharing the news as they flew over from a sponsor event in the Far East.
When he told one of his closest friends, his mate replied: “Now I understand how my sister felt when Take That split.”
It was a good line, but did not help settle his nerves for the call he was relishing least, to father Keke.
Rosberg Snr is a friendly but no-nonsense Finn – world champion in 1982, when he would routinely step out of the car and light a cigarette.
He made multiple millions as a businessman post-career and guided young Nico into Formula One.
He then stepped aside to give his son his own head soon after he had established himself at his first team, Williams, for whom he made his debut in 2006 with the fastest lap in Bahrain.
“I can see with my daughter now,” says Nico, “that it is hard to let go. Wow, very hard. It was not easy because he had all the experience and wanted to give it to me and to protect me from the shark environment of F1. To stay in the background was massive.”
So how to make the call to the man who had shown up for the first time in the paddock for ages, a few hours after Nico’s title win, smoking a giant cigar?
The answer was instead to call his mother, Sina, a discreet, elegant German from whom Nico probably takes more of his non-racing traits.
“I talked to Dad in detail afterwards. We went deep, but he told me that he was happy if I was happy.”
The Hamilton-Rosberg relationship was unique. In their dark moments, their long-standing friendship may have helped. At other times, I suggested to him, it may have added extra friction, like two exes together.
“That’s right,” he says. “The anger is bigger if that person you know so well does something that crosses the line. Lewis is very good at going to the edge without going outside the grey area, thanks to his skills in the car. He is smart, very, very smart. I found it harder to go wheel-to-wheel. For him, it comes naturally.
“For me it is more rational. I have to work at standing my ground. I got more aggressive because too often in the past he had walked all over me. I had to watch the videos and make improvements.” — Daily Mail (UK).