If you’re one of those people who were terribly upset that the 2016 Formula 1 season has come to an end – worry not, the real drama has only just begun.
World Champion Nico Rosberg announced a shock retirement from Formula 1 with “immediate effect.” Admittedly, no one saw this coming – especially in the close-knit paddock where secrets are impossible to keep. Keke Rosberg had hinted towards this post Abu Dhabi, when he suggested that the pressure on Nico had been so much that he “just may retire tomorrow.” Of course, everyone dismissed it thinking that Rosberg Sr was just joking, or was a few celebratory drinks down.
On a lighter note, this is Nico’s first ‘retirement’ since the Spanish Grand Prix.
But why Nico, why?
There’s no easy answer to the question that will be asked again and again in the days to come – “why did Nico do this?” Motorsport is a highly stressful, unforgiving world and when you have a lifelong rival like Lewis Hamilton, the pressure increases manifold. Add to that the burden of being a world champion’s son, and you have the makings of a mental pressure cooker. Or maybe he just retired so he doesn’t have to choose between No 1 and No 6 on this car next season!
We would have loved to see Nico defend his world title against Lewis, but maybe that’s exactly why he quit. Watching Nico vs Lewis race as champions in 2017 will be one of those what-ifs that Formula 1 fans will wistfully discuss for the years to come. In a sport where passion is supreme, it is a bit strange that Nico says he retired because he ‘met his target’ – Nico, thinking like a salesman?
Who can Mercedes hire next?
The spotlight is now firmly on Mercedes with a paddock full of drivers eyeing the vacant racing seat. Surely Toto Wolff’s phone would have been ringing nonstop. At the same time, most top drivers have already made racing commitments for 2017, putting the team in a tricky place. Despite everyone’s efforts, it will be Bernie Eccelstone’s efforts that might count the most to ensure that Mercedes get a driver who can challenge Hamilton and keep viewers engaged next season.
The team will view the situation from two aspects – having an experienced driver to help them win despite the new regulations, or prepare for the future by grooming new talents like Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. Mercedes’ top priority would of course be defending their Constructors’ title in 2017.
The easiest solution for Mercedes would be promoting their junior driver Wehrlein, who does not currently have a confirmed drive for 2016. Whether Wehrlein is ready for the top role is questionable because Force India picked Ocon over Wehrlein for 2017.
Alonso, Bottas, Hulkenberg
The best way for a top driver to race for Mercedes is by unlocking a performance clause (or a similar exit clause) in their contract – Fernando Alonso seems like the likeliest suspect going by social media chatter. And boy, he’d be glad to finally fight for his third world title. Though knowing Alonso’s luck, it could well be that he moves to Mercedes but Red Bull Racing is the quickest car next season, or maybe even Mclaren.
Mercedes could also negotiate with their key customer teams, Williams and Force India. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas could be a good option (Bonus: his driver career is managed by Toto Wolff). Sergio Perez, who has proven himself at Force India has been eyeing a 2018 Ferrari seat – we’d imagine that a 2017 Mercedes contract would suit him just fine. Nico Hulkenberg has signed a 2017 contract with Renault. Can Hulkenberg deflect from Renault to Mercedes without driving a single lap in the yellow car? And what’s crucial to know is the ‘start date’ of Hulkenberg’s contract with Renault. Is it 1 January 2017?
The other German on the grid, Sebastian Vettel, has been rather displeased at Ferrari. Could a seat with the Mercedes be a happy ‘German’ homecoming? The Red Bull drivers look like an exceptional option, with the just the right mix of youth, experience and talent. A Verstappen-Hamilton pairing at Mercedes would be the stuff dreams are made of. However, we’d imagine that Red Bull would be reluctant to let go of their prodigy, Verstappen. Should they agree to let go of Ricciardo, it would also solve their ‘problem of plenty’ by allowing Carlos Sainz a promotion.
It seems a long shot, but Mercedes could also consider retiring drivers Felipe Massa and Jenson Button (now we know why he called it a sabbatical). In any case, it is going to be a bloody battle for the throne with so much at stake. But Mercedes might not get their driver without a bit of a legal wrangle with another team and while doing so, they’re surely going to disrupt another team’s combination for 2017. Stoffel Vandoorne, Ocon, Lance Stroll and even Jolyon Palmer aren’t yet drivers who can lead their respective teams forward next season. Formula 1’s game of thrones, anyone?
Tune into the latest podcast episode titled ‘Formula 1’s Game of Thrones’ where we talk about Nico Rosberg’s shocking retirement and whom Mercedes should pick to fill his “throne.”
Also join in as we discuss Rosberg's shock retirement and what next for Mercedes Live on Facebook at 1.30pm on Saturday.
Updated Date: Dec 03, 2016 12:37:35 IST