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Nico Rosberg: The World Champion’s Season

Nico Rosberg: The World Champion’s Season

Nico Rosberg looks around with a gleam in his eye. Here stands the famous W 196 Silver Arrow of Juan Manuel Fangio, over there, the world championship-winning car of Mika Häkkinen and just a few metres further on, the world championship-winning Silver Arrows racing cars from previous years. Even a seasoned grand prix winner like Nico can't help gasping with amazement at the sight of these motor racing legends.

The 'Hallowed Halls' in Fellbach near Stuttgart forms the perfect backdrop for the Silver Arrows to 'kick-off' the new 2016 motor racing year. Here among all these historic racing cars is where the new Formula One season and the third round of the world championship battle between Nico and his team-mate Lewis Hamilton get under way.

'As soon as I saw our new Silver Arrow for the first time, I had a good feeling,' said Nico, who during pre-season testing had completed one marathon test day after the other with Lewis. 'You could clearly see from the innovative features that it represents a step forward. In motor racing - and this is especially true of Formula One - development never stands still. To stay ahead, you need to continue to develop and find new ways of doing things that no‑one else has thought of before.'

That was to prove true not just with regard to the F1 W07 Hybrid, however. In the nine months that followed, Nico himself has had to face plenty of challenges during the longest season ever with 21 races and reinvent himself to some extent, always with the big goal in mind - his first world championship title.

Gaining momentum: Perfect start to the season

Just one week after the kick-off in Germany, and Nico was already in Australia. He began the new season in Melbourne's Albert Park just as he had ended the previous one, with a win. In fact, Nico finished the first four races as the winner in Australia, Bahrain, China and Russia. Each time, he started from the front row, and each time, he took the much-vaunted 'momentum' along with him to the next race.

Taken across two seasons, Nico achieved seven wins, because he won the last three races of 2015 in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. What better way to take the momentum from the previous year with you into the new year? Nico, though, did not allow that to put any pressure on him. 'I take each race as it comes, and then wait and see how things go,' he said, setting out that calm approach to things which stood him in such good stead across the season.

The big bang: Setback in Barcelona

But then came Barcelona. Nico's winning streak came to an abrupt end in the fifth race of the season in Spain. His race was over after only a few hundred metres, but what was even worse, the Silver Arrow driven by Lewis was also out of the race. What on earth had happened? Nico had overtaken Lewis in the first corner and was in the lead.

'I came out of Turn 3 and realised I was down on power.' A wrong setting was the reason for that. The engine mode switch was in the wrong position. 'Since Lewis was closing on me, I decided to move to the right as quickly as possible.' He wanted to close the door on Lewis and show him that was not an option. There was a crash. They both retired. This was to be the only retirement all season for Nico.

Backwards and forwards: Lewis hits back

It was time for Nico's home race on the streets of Monaco just a fortnight later. After three victories in the previous years, things again did not go the way Nico would have wished. Instead, as happened in the next race in Canada, Lewis stood on the top spot of the podium. This was the beginning of the all too familiar toing and froing in the world championship fight between the two Silver Arrows drivers with Nico in front one minute, only for Lewis to edge slightly ahead the next.

But Nico never gave up for one moment. He hit back straightaway with a win at the debut of the European Grand Prix in Baku. But then Lewis had a magic month in July when four wins in five weeks brought him the world championship lead for the first time this year. Nico still had a 43-point advantage after Russia but was 19 points down at the start of the summer break. Lewis put on a truly impressive spurt in July with six wins in seven races. 'I'm now looking forward to the summer break and aim to return even stronger,' announced Nico bullishly in Hockenheim. No sooner said than done.

Counterattack after summer break

After the summer break, Nico again made a clean start to the second half of the year as he had done to kick off the season. Taking wins in Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Japan, he not only scored vital points but also showed that he was not about to let setbacks stop him in his tracks. He showed that he had learned lessons from his experiences of the past years, achieving all four wins at circuits where he had never won before.

Nico remembers his success under the stars of Singapore with particular fondness: 'In the past, the Singapore track has not treated me so well,' said Nico, 'so this win is a very special one and an even more emotional one for me.' He beat Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo in a thrilling battle by exactly 0.488 seconds.

Clever tactics after Ricciardo's pit stop were the key to success. 'If I had also pitted, I would have come out behind him, because I was stuck in traffic on my in-lap, so we chose the best strategy which was to stay out.' The gamble paid off. Nico won and extended his world championship lead on Lewis even further.

The Turning Point

During the season, Nico repeatedly emphasised that he was taking each race as it came and not concerning himself with the chances of winning the title. Nevertheless, there was one race weekend that played a pivotal role in Nico's world championship challenge - the fifth to last race of the year at the legendary Suzuka International Racing Course.

One of the major outcomes of the weekend in Japan was, of course, the winning of the Constructors' World Championship; with an unassailable lead of 208 points, the Silver Arrows had wrapped up their third successive title. But from a personal perspective, Nico's first Grand Prix victory on this circuit was a very special milestone on the way to fulfilling his long-held ambition of winning the Formula One World Championship.

'Suzuka was the turning point for me,' says Nico, recalling this crucial moment in the battle with Lewis. Nico came away from Japanese Grand Prix with a 33-point lead in the Drivers' World Championship: 'From that moment onwards, I had my destiny in my own hands.' Even if Lewis had won all four remaining races, that might still not have been enough in itself. But at the same time, the pressure was now on Nico, who now for the first time began to think about ending his racing career if he became World Champion.

Triumph in Abu Dhabi

In the run-up to the big world championship showdown in Abu Dhabi, the much-vaunted momentum once again favoured Lewis a little. The three-time champion won the races in the USA, Mexico and Brazil, keeping the title fight wide open until the finale at the Yas Marina circuit where, however, Nico wrapped things up with an second place to secure his first world championship title in his eleventh Formula 1 season.

'It was my childhood dream to win the World Championship and that's done,' said Nico in Abu Dhabi. A few days later, just before the FIA Prizegiving gala in Vienna, he dropped a bombshell: he was retiring with immediate effect from his career in Formula One. 'I've made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.'

The season then closed in the same way that it had begun. On the day after his announcement, Nico returned to the heart of Mercedes-Benz, however this time not to Fellbach but to the vehicle manufacturing plant at Sindelfingen. He joined with the rest of the Silver Arrows team in thanking the assembled 16,500 workers for their support and took his leave from them as reigning Formula One World Champion. Nico can be sure that his championship-winning F1 W07 Hybrid will one day also go on display in the 'Hallowed Halls'.

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