After years of playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton throughout his career, Nico Rosberg has been crowned 2016 Formula 1 World Champion after an intriguing duel with his nemesis in the decisive season finale Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he finished second and with it did enough to seal the world championship title which his father – Keke Rosberg – also won back in 1982.
Here is the Mercedes driver’s take on what must be one of the greatest moments of his life, whereupon he has etched his names among the greats of Formula 1 by becoming its 33rd world champion.
Obviously a critical point in the race for you was the overtake on Max Verstappen. You were told by your engineer it was critical to pass him and it was very, very close. A heart in the mouth moment for you? NR: For sure. The feelings out there in that battle with Max… unreal, really unreal. I hope I don’t experience that again any time soon. And the same again at the end, you know: pressure on from behind, Lewis driving slow at the front. It was a tough one.
You’ve had your emotions and your whole psychology so locked down, you’ve talked about going one race at a time. Now it’s all over, what was it like? Really, on the inside, mentally? NR: It’s crazy. The thing is it was so intense – the race – it’s still going to take some time I think to settle it and come out because it was really intense out there and so tough in the end. Those last couple of laps with those two guys behind. If I dropped being them it’s over so not enjoyable.
Now that you’ve won this championship, can you convey to your fans, who was driving you, who was pushing you, who was giving you the energy and the strength to get through this season and win this championship? NR: It’s everybody who’s supporting me in the world. It’s all the people watching on TV who support me, all the people who come to the races, even this weekend, a lot of Germans out there and from the whole world, supporting me through the whole weekend. That’s really, really special. It’s a special feeling, a very unique feeling. I’m very thankful to all of them. And then of course the people closer to me. It’s my whole team, which is my racing family. I joined Mercedes in 2010 and it was a rough ride initially and now it’s come good in the last years and now it’s come good for me today – and that’s very, very special also. So, big thanks to my racing family, to Mercedes, to my family, to all of my team around me, working around me. Everybody has there part in this. It’s such a long way to get to today, really. My go-karting engineer from when I was ten was writing me last night, memories from ten years old, fighting for the French championship, stories of motivation he was sending me yesterday, so it’s just all the way from there, every year it builds up to this success today. Even all those people through my career. I had a lot of important mentors in that sense. All the way through. If this is the moment to mention them, I will. It’s Serge Dino in go-karting, then in cars it was Team Rosberg and Peter Sieber and Erich Baumgärtner in Formula 3. Arno Zensen, Team Rosberg. After that came GP2 where it’s Nicolas Todt, Fred Vasseur, big thanks to them for getting me into F1, and Steve Marcel who unfortunately passed away. After that F1, Williams, Frank Williams, Sam Michael, Patrick Head, to get me into F1. And after that, what come after that? The people that took me to Mercedes, that was Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn, Nick Fry, thanks to all of you to get me into Mercedes. That was the beginning of the story, and then of course Toto, massive thanks to Toto and Paddy and Niki for continuing it on and taking me to where I am today.
On Thursday Lewis said that the last night of 2014 was awful for him and he didn’t sleep. How was that weekend for you and how did you live with all that pressure? NR: If it’s OK maybe you can understand that maybe I wasn’t completely transparent the whole weekend. Of course I need protect myself a little bit also from your world which is pretty intense, the world media world. So yes it was a very, very tough weekend for me. Many moments not so enjoyable of course, like especially the race, for example. Very, very tough with Verstappen in the beginning there and then in the end of course. Not nice!
Germany right now is celebrating their new champion, but how much glory of that achievement will you give to your Finnish side and your Finnish father? NR: Two Rosbergs are World Champions now! That’s just a statistic for you – if I got my statistics right, so that’s quite a nice new one. What was the question? Sorry. I have a Finnish passport as well, so I would love to know that everybody in Finland that was supporting me is also very very happy. That would be great and thanks for all your support back in Finland. Of course a part of me is Finnish and always will be and I’m very proud of that.
Lewis said he was leading the race, he had the right to conduct the pace of the race… NR: That’s a pretty simple discussion. You can understand the team’s perspective and you can understand Lewis’s perspective so there’s no… that’s it.
Did you sleep last night? NR: I managed to get a few hours in, yeah. I didn’t know what to expect but it worked out OK, yes.
And where have you been hiding your family, your parents? NR: My wife is right there and my daughter is back in the hotel.
And what about your Mum and Dad? NR: Mum was in the garage just now and Dad, well, he’s going to be here as well.
Where have they been? NR: I’ve no idea. They’re here now, they were hiding.
Have they been hiding then? Did you not want them around? How did it work? NR: I hope my Dad survived that race actually. I haven’t seen him yet. I’m sure it was pretty intense for him so I hope he’s OK and I can’t wait to see him in a while, because I’ve only seen my Mum for now so I don’t know where he is.
So was he hiding from you? NR: No, no, they were not here. They just came now, after the race.
Do you think that one of your biggest achievements if not your biggest achievement this year was your mental strength, your focus? You don’t seem to have been distracted by pretty much almost anything this season, even when there were incidents earlier in the season you seem to have managed to keep your focus. Would you say that’s your biggest achievement alongside your title? NR: For sure it’s a key ingredient, yeah, to why I’m here now. It’s continual, yeah, it’s just my approach that I’ve taken from myself. Everybody does his own way; for me that feels best and I’ve really learned to focus hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice also to stay so focused during a whole year. For sure that helped, yeah.
Your father’s obviously been in the background. He hasn’t been seen in the last few days but hasn’t been seen either for the last few months. What’s been the level of involvement with your father? Are there any words of wisdom or has he really been at arm’s length over the few weeks and months and days as well? NR: Every Saturday night I get a message from him and most of the time it’s like ‘pedal to the metal tomorrow, full stop, exclamation mark.’ So that’s his words of advice every weekend. But my Dad and my Mum both have such a big part in this, my Mum on the private side of course and my Dad for the career steps and all the support all the way. It was massive. I think it’s been good how’s he’s let me get on with it and taken a step back. I think it’s been very very good and it’s worked well for us and for me, it feels right, so I’m very very thankful for that. It’s his way of stepping back a bit for sure.
What will change in your life after winning today? NR: OK, that’s a question. I’m sure it’s going to be pretty crazy now for the next few days but I look forward to all that, it’s going to be special. Tonight is going to go absolutely nuts, I mean tonight is going to be insane. I think I’m going to be not available for a few days after that and… I don’t know.
Sometimes attack is the best form of defence; once you realised what games Lewis was playing, did you ever think about attacking him or vice versa, in the end, using Sebastian Vettel to put pressure on him, by letting Vettel past? NR: Lewis was using all his skill to do it perfectly, so there was absolutely no way for me to manage to get by, so of course I thought about it but it was just pointless so there was no way. He did it in a very good way, in a perfect way.
You had a really strong inter last season, you won here 12 months ago and you won the last few races and the last six pole positions of the season. How important was that strong inter-season after a difficult earlier time in the year, to building to this season? Did it play a part, was it important to have a good winter? NR: For sure that was a big turning point, it was Austin, because Austin was a horrible experience for me and I really spent two days just on my own thinking and I said I didn’t ever want to experience that again and then I went and won the next seven races on the trot, so for sure it was a big moment for me and one of the key moments for being here today.
Do you think you can use number one next year or are you going to carry on with the family number six? NR: I have no idea. I love number six of course, my Dad won the World Championship with number six as well, so it’s a very lucky number for us. Don’t know, that’s it.
What’s the flight home going to be like and what do you have planned for the off-season? NR: I’m going to Malaysia for Petronas to celebrate there with them, so that’s the first flight and then I just want to spend as much time with my family as possible. But it’s going to be completely crazy, it’s going to go all over the place now but that’s a part of it and I look forward to that. I’m making the most of this moment.
Do you think, sometimes, in Italian? Which is the first language that you think in your mind and which is the most beautiful place that you have (visited) in Italy? Third question is – and then I stop for the rest of the season – if you think that becoming the number one can change you, you can race next year more relaxed to achieve even more than this season? NR: Well, you will see in videos afterwards that my first celebration dance with my family was actually ‘campione del mondo’ just now down in the garage because all my friends are Italian. I love the culture and thank you for all the support as well, from Italy, that’s amazing to see so many people supporting me in Monza, so very special. Yeah, so big connection from me to Italy. Ah, for sure I’ll do a better performance than today or yesterday because it’s just difficult with the pressure on like that, it definitely is more difficult.
You beat Lewis and he’s considered one of the best in the history of Formula One and the numbers prove that. What does this mean for you, also considering the history you have with him? NR: Yeah, for sure, it feels like I’ve been racing him for ever and always he’s just managed to edge me out and get the title even when we were small in go-karts. And he’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history so it’s unbelievably special to beat him because the level is so high and that makes this even more… for sure, so much more satisfying for me because the benchmark is so… and I took the World Championship away from him which is a phenomenal feeling. It’s been a great year as well, for sure he drove at an extremely high level, he’s done some incredible racing so he’s been a very very tough competitor and I don’t know how many points we are apart at the end, you know, five points, which is unbelievable. With the same car.
Given the circumstances and the pressure you were under, do you consider that pass on Max that you did, wheel-to-wheel going through two corners together, one of the best of your career? NR: Yeah, for sure, yeah, it was great, definitely a great one. Fair play to him, also. He went full-on aggressive of course, he didn’t given an inch, as usual but fair play, we didn’t collide and I got by, so that felt amazingly good. It was an awesome feeling at the time, really, very relieving and so intense, unbelievably intense really, in the car. I’ve never felt something like that in the car before.
Alain Prost was saying that you haven’t been given the credit you deserve as a driver. Do you agree with that and think that now you will be seen in a different light? NR: I don’t drive for credit, I drive to win the World Championship and I have achieved that and it was my childhood dream to win the World Championship and that’s done and that’s what I’m excited about and I look forward to celebrating with all the people who have been supporting me.
What did Mr Ecclestone say to you? NR: He didn’t have much time to talk, he was up in the air before he could say something. Thank you very much, thank for this year, thank you.