Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Since I Wrote About Lewis, I Will Write About Nico

You would think if you were writing the day after the World Drivers' Championship was decided you would be writing about the World Drivers' Champion but that wasn't the case as the runner-up got all the spoils yesterday. Nico Rosberg is clubhouse leader to become the champion we all will forget next to Jody Scheckter and Alan Jones.

Scheckter and Jones both won a title but when you think late-1970s, early-1980s Formula One, Gilles Villeneuve is mentioned before those two but his death during his prime probably adds to his mystique. Heck Ronnie Peterson, Carlos Reutemann and maybe even John Watson are more synonymous with that era than Scheckter and Jones. Rosberg sits somewhere along those two in the background of those with glory but not holding the imaginations of the populous. 

It is hard to like Rosberg because it feels like nobody likes Rosberg. On the podium in Abu Dhabi, while fighting back tears he directed his message to the team to get ready for the celebration and turn the music on because he would soon be there to join them. Once he navigated his way back to the garage, ignoring his commitment to do the post-race press conference, he enters and the team isn't there awaiting his arrival. The champagne had already been opened and the team was off in clusters chatting and drinking but more like it was an office Christmas party than a championship celebration. Rosberg wanted to know where the music is. He wanted a raucous celebration. The music was playing. It was "Sympathy for the Devil." 

Despite wanting to celebrate, an official ushered him with his wife by his side to the pressroom for him to do his post-race comments. Queen's "We Are The Champions" played in the garage while he was across the paddock. 

It felt like the team didn't even want to embrace him. Was "Sympathy for the Devil" Rosberg's choice? Was the man in the black hat taking on the role of black hat compared to his white-hatted teammate? Or was the team sending a message about how it feels having him as champion? 

After all Rosberg is a man of wealth and taste. He is a silver spoon, German by choice, raised in Monaco, talented driver who doesn't seem real. He comes off as someone with no real life experiences. Does he know what it means to struggle? Does he know what sacrifice is? The last three years hasn't helped him. Before this reign of Mercedes dominance, Rosberg had won three times, had 11 career podiums, four pole positions and his best finish in the championship was sixth. Since then he has won twenty times, finished second in the championship twice and the third year proved to be the charm and he ended up winning the world championship. 

His choice to be German arguably is the reason he became world champion. Had he decided to be Finnish like his father or taken the neutral nationality of Monegasque, he might be out of Formula One. Mercedes bought Brawn and Mercedes wanted German drivers. They wanted a German at McLaren after the Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen spells and Adrian Sutil was high on the list because he was a pal at the time with Hamilton but Mercedes' entry knocked world champion Jenson Button out of a seat and the British team swooped in to pick up the British champion. 

Mercedes wanted Germans and it brought the national hero Michael Schumacher out of retired and paired him the only German of respect and that just happened to be Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel was tied with Red Bull and was on the precipice of something great. Nico Hülkenberg was just entering Formula One but the manufacture returning to Formula One after five-and-a-half decades away couldn't have a rookie leading its return. It would have been too much pressure on Hülkenberg. Nick Heidfeld had experience but we had seen all he could be. Heidfeld was reliable but not great. The same could be said of Timo Glock. Rosberg just happened to be the best of a mediocre batch of Germans and it kept his career alive. Had he been Finnish, maybe Heidfeld would have looked much better to Mercedes or Mercedes ties its hitch to Hülkenberg as their young German to go toe-to-toe with Vettel. Had he been Finnish, Rosberg would have been Heikki Kovalainen, only Kovalainen had won a grand prix by the start of the 2010 season. 

Rosberg isn't going to go down as an all-time greats. His name won't be tossed about with Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. With new regulations approaching Rosberg could fall back to Earth. His ascension up the record books could stall somewhere near Nigel Mansell's 31 victories if it even gets that high. 

As much as I ripped Rosberg's career a part in the previous 811 words, I believe Rosberg is a good guy. Those tears yesterday weren't some acting job to make people believe he cared. It has been a long and difficult road for him. Only Mansell had raced more seasons before winning his first title. There were probably times at Williams when the world championship didn't seem possible for Rosberg. He embraced his wife in parc fermé and had her by his side after he got down from the podium. This was their moment as much as it was his. 

Rosberg might not be the inspiring driver like Clark, Fangio and Senna but he isn't a hack. Sure, it seemed like there was never a driver who tired harder to throw away a championship than he did this year. He nearly caused a war after Barcelona... and again after Austria... and he tested how hard the stewards would bite by violating the radio regulations at Silverstone. He got nipped but was never mangled. He could have been disqualified after either Austria or Silverstone but he wasn't. Had he been, the world championship wouldn't have been his and history would probably have him as a driver in position to be champion only to throw it all away because he didn't have the confidence to win it without taking his title rivals out with him. He still is that driver who is shaky when challenged only now he has the hardware on his mantel. 

Maybe Rosberg can change his legacy over whatever time remains in his career but it may already be cemented.