Rosberg and his art of feeding off adversity

“In Austin 2015, when I lost the championship to Lewis Hamilton, it was very tough. Very tough, because I put my whole life into trying to win on that track, you know, and then when you suffer such a loss, it’s a tough moment, and I found motivation that I didn’t even know I had,” says Nico Rosberg in this chat.

Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula One World champion, poses with the World Breakthrough of the Year prize he won at the 2017 Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco.   -  Getty Images

Nico Rosberg, who retired less than a week after claiming the 2016 Formula One World title, won the Breakthrough of the Year prize at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco recently.

The 31-year-old German, who won the F1 title with Mercedes, staved off competition from world record-breaking athletes, Almaz Ayana (10,000m & 5,000m) and Wayde van Niekerk (400m & 200m), and three teams that pulled off remarkable performances in 2016 — Leicester City (English Premier League champion), Iceland (European Championship quarterfinalist) and Fiji (Olympic Rugby Sevens gold medal winner) — to land the Breakthrough of the Year Award.

During the Laureus Awards, Rosberg spoke of his career in Formula One and what it meant to drive for a top team like Mercedes.

Excerpts:

Question: Are you still enjoying your retirement?

Answer: Yes, I am definitely enjoying it; feeling great in general. Looking back, it was an awesome emotion, which I’m taking with me now into my next steps.

Have there been moments at all in the last few weeks or couple of months, with factory visits and testing going on, that a little bit of you hasn’t wanted to be there and being involved as you would normally be at this time of year?

Well, it’s a big change in my life, for sure. You know, definitely there’s going to be some strange moments obviously. I think that’s natural. One of them, for example, was seeing social media posts by Valtteri Bottas, where he’s sitting together with all my engineers in the factory. And you know, that was for me — we were called Team Nico, you know. And now there’s Valtteri sitting there with all my engineers, and probably they have renamed it Team Valtteri now. That was a strange moment.

I think you said in some recent interviews that your diary for March was empty. Is it still empty?

It was a figure of speech to say that I really have this freedom now, which feels great as well. And being able to plan my year the way I want to, really, that’s a great feeling.

You spoke about how you overhauled your mental approach last year, using techniques for concentration, including meditation and things like that. What prompted that, and had you done anything similar in the previous years, or was that literally last year that you came to it?

I’ve always been exploring that area, because we are training our bodies, flat out, every day, and yet we don’t do that much for our minds. And so I thought it must be possible to find that little bit extra, even in the mental.

So, I’ve been exploring that, and I’ve just really ramped it up this year, or last year, and found a way with a mental trainer, working intensely together. It gave me that little bit extra. It’s been a great, great journey and awesome experience, and for sure, it’s a part of why I’m sitting here now as a World champion.

Do you think it’s going to be the fourth year of Mercedes domination this season? And what is your opinion on what Fernando Alonso can do this year?

Mercedes is an incredible team. They are the best out there, so there’s a good chance they are going to be at the front. But the rules are totally different (this year). So everybody has to start from zero, building their cars to these new regulations, so you just don’t know. Nobody knows. If someone has really managed to do a genius job, even maybe by luck — that can happen as well — then you might be way ahead of everybody else or something like that.

We’ll wait and see. It’s going to be interesting. I think the biggest threat (to Mercedes) at the moment is Red Bull, because with new regulations, Adrian Newey has always done incredibly well in the past. So, for sure, Red Bull could be a big threat, but let’s wait and see. We’ll know very soon.

And what was the other question? Oh, Fernando Alonso. Again, because of the new regulations, they have a great opportunity, but we need to wait and see. It wouldn’t be expected that they will be able to dominate, you know, but maybe they have a chance to be closer to the front and at least get some podiums or something.

You spoke about mental training. Have you ever thought about yoga and making a trip to India?

Well, yoga and meditation are quite similar. So my direction has been more towards meditation, and that has worked very well. It’s given me something extra for my life. So, definitely, yeah, it would be great to explore India one day, especially in that direction, to experience the Indian way of thinking there.

What is so special about the Monaco Grand Prix? You won a hat-trick of races here and Ayrton Senna loved this race…

It’s the most legendary track. They have raced here since a hundred years, I think. It’s the most difficult race, the most challenging for a driver, because it’s so easy to make mistakes, and it’s the most glamorous. Everybody is here to watch, and the atmosphere is just incredible, and the city here, it’s a spectacle — no, spectacular. For me, it’s my home, also. So, I am very proud to have been able to win it three times in a row.

What advice would you give Valtteri Bottas, in particular, in terms of having to deal with Lewis Hamilton as his team-mate?

Well, I would tell him, ‘Don’t expect an easy ride’. That’s for sure, because it’s going to be challenging. Coming into a new team, with Lewis having been there for so many years, new regulations, everything; and Lewis, he’s one of the best out there. So, the level is extremely high. But at the same time, Terry is very talented. So for sure, he can achieve great things, as well, as long as the team gives him a good car, and that’s it.

But anyway, he’s asked me if we could have a chat soon, and I’m happy to do that, of course. But I will stay very, very neutral. So, I won’t give away any of Lewis’ secrets, for example. I’ll just help him in a way to integrate better into the team.

“Valtteri Bottas is very talented. So for sure, he can achieve great things as well, as long as the team (Mercedes) gives him a good car, and that’s it,” says Nico Rosberg.   -  Getty Images

 

Can you tell us a few words about Valtteri Bottas? How have you known him as a person? And second question, how do you spend your time now? What’s your daily schedule?

Valtteri, I don’t know much about him. I just know he’s a great racing driver, and for sure, the best possible choice for Mercedes. They have a good driver line-up now again.

What was the second part? Oh, how do I spend my days? For now, it’s really exploring; exploring for new challenges. And the first thing that’s come to me is really I want to give something back. You know, I have received so much in the last few years. The success in racing, my lovely family, everything… it’s been really incredible. So, I really feel I would love to give something back now, so that’s really my main focus at the moment; to find some projects I’m really passionate about. I’ve been doing a lot of different visits. I think at the moment, the first thing would be with children that are a bit older who really can appreciate, for example, Formula One and things like that, and who really enjoy meeting me.

It’s a privilege to be able to, with my visit, make children have a happy moment. Not many people have that power, so it’s a real privilege; which actually relates very closely to one of the main reasons why we are here, as well, for Laureus, these two days. Because that’s exactly what Laureus’ work is about: giving children through sport more hope in their lives for the future. Sport is so powerful, you know. So, this is what Laureus is about.

You’ve been a model of determination, dedication and ultimate triumph. There were millions of children that watched you around the world. What message would you give to aspiring sports stars, based on your career and your experiences?

It’s just really to keep fighting. Keep punishing. Keep motivated. And always try to reinvent yourself to be even better, even better every single day, that’s it. With all the determination and discipline you can possibly put into it, success will come your way one day.

Your retirement allowed Felipe Massa to come out of retirement. I would like to ask you if you think he still has something to give to Formula One?

Well, it was great for Formula One that he came back. And he has so much to give, of course. He has such a big following in Brazil; so many Brazilians who are passionately following him, and he’s a great driver.

So again, if Williams give him a good car, he can still have some great success.

Your dad was a world champion, you are a world champion, and now you have a girl; maybe in a couple years, girls could race in Formula; maybe you have other kids…

No, no, not happening.

Would you like one of your sons or daughters to also be a Formula One driver? Or right now, you’re so fed up, you wouldn’t like it?

Well, fed up is the wrong word. It’s been an amazing ride, and I’m unbelievably grateful for the career that I’ve had. I’m looking back with great happiness.

And for the future, for me, the most important for my children is to really let them do their own (thing), find their own way and not stand in their way. So, if one of my children, or for now my daughter, wants to go into racing one day, then I won’t hold her back.

What do you think about Ferrari? Do you think the team could win the title this year or in the future?

Ferrari, again, their opportunity is the regulation change this year. With that, if they have done a special job, then they can be right at the front. There’s no reason why not.

But in general, I don’t think they are the best team at the moment. The best team is Mercedes, and it would take Ferrari a little bit longer I think to become the best team again in the future. But their opportunity is the regulation change.

You had an amazing, glorious finale, and before that, you had a couple of tough years. How did you keep up the belief during those years that you would finally make it?

It’s thanks to those difficult moments that I’m sitting here as the World champion, and I’m proud to say that I really fought through them and managed to come out of those dark moments with even greater motivation. That’s what happened in Austin 2015 when I lost the championship to Lewis. It was very tough. Very tough because I put my whole life into trying to win on that track, you know, and then when you suffer such a loss, it’s a tough moment, and I found motivation that I didn’t even know I had.

So, I came out of that and I put everything into it; that five percent, even more, last year, and that’s why I’m sitting here as a World champion. So, it’s really thanks to the losses.

The sport, in recent years, has been typified by your rivalry with Lewis. Who you think will be Lewis’ biggest rival this season?

Well, there will be naturally Terry, and we have to wait and see which other team is going to be strong. At the moment, I expect Red Bull. So it would be (Max) Verstappen and (Daniel) Ricciardo, who are both great drivers, and let’s see who else.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Talking of his relationship with Hamilton, Nico says, “Well, I think it is going to take a little bit more time to find our way.”   -  Getty Images

 

We talk about last year, and the last few years, with regard to your relationship with Lewis. Now because there is no more pressure, how would you define your relationship with Lewis?

Well, I think it’s going to take a little bit more time to find our way. But in general now, yes, the competition is gone completely, suddenly. You know, so we’ve already had some nice, relaxed moments. And who knows, I’m open to having a better relationship again with him in the future. We were best friends, after all, 15 years ago.

Being a Formula One driver means a lot of work, busy schedule, a lot of expectations and pressure. Do you feel relieved a bit right now, a sudden amount of relief after ending your career?

I was massively passionate about my racing, and it’s with that passion that you become World champion, fighting for 11 years in Formula One. So those things never really were on my mind in such a way. And none of those things would be a reason for, you know, stopping like that. No. Because really, the challenges of the sport, that’s what I was racing for. And even fighting through those difficult situations, that gives the awesome pleasure afterwards of having overcome these challenges. That’s what sport is about, because we’re warriors out there in the end on the race track.

My passion was also very much related to these challenges and trying to be the best out there and trying to beat everybody else and trying to be the best in the world.

Regarding your sentiments about Sebastian Vettel in the newspapers…

What did I say?

That probably he would have been a good replacement for you at Mercedes…

I never said that.

“It would definitely make sense for Sebastian Vettel to have a look at a Mercedes seat for 2018 and for Mercedes to have a look at him and consider him for 2018,” says Rosberg.   -  Getty Images

 

Do you think that he will race for Mercedes in the future? Would he be a good replacement?

What I said was that, it would definitely make sense for Sebastian to have a look at a Mercedes seat for 2018 and for Mercedes to have a look at him and consider him for 2018. I mean, that’s obvious. He’s one of the best drivers out there, and he doesn’t have a contract for 2018. So they should explore the possibility. And who knows — let’s see what happens — he could be a good fit.

Vettel, and also Alonso, would see their contracts end this year. Who would fit Mercedes better?

Of course, even Alonso, they need to keep him in mind. Even though he’s not the youngest out there, he’s still driving at his best, I think… it looks like from what we’ve seen. He should be considered, as well, and I’m sure they will.

Courtesy: Laureus World Sports Awards