My colleague and teammate on MotorSportsTalk, Luke Smith, sent me the Facebook message just after 7 a.m. my time.
“Wait,” I slowly thought in my “trying to process the magnitude of this message while not having had coffee and rolled out of bed” state. He can’t be serious… this is still a weird dream.
The transitionary line from me was as you’d expect.
“What?!?” I naturally, incredulously reply.
“He’s announced it in Vienna. I’m working it up now,” Luke follows, because this is what Luke does: he is on it all the freaking time, often times more than me.
Then the texts started following. Some of them with all caps. Some with expletives. Some with both.
This isn’t happening.
The first round of stories start hitting the Internet, because that’s how Internet posts work in this age of motorsports journalism. News travels quickly. We await the actual Rosberg statement he posts himself, because it’s not enough to be right anymore, just, like Internet commenters, first.
The Rosberg statement follows. It isn’t a facade. It’s real.
“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion,” Rosberg wrote on his Facebook page in the announcement.
“On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life.”
Social media is abuzz.
Lewis Hamilton is known for his social media presence.
Yet it’s Nico Rosberg who’s the Mercedes driver that went “Hammer Time” on him, and broke the racing Internet.
The fact that literally no one saw this coming – in an age when announcements are known days, weeks and months before they actually officially happen – is both a genuine shock and a welcome surprise, and that’s why the magnitude of both the announcement and the timing is as large as it is.
This is not the first time this has happened this year in racing, in a year full of shocks.
Alexander Rossi wasn’t really going to make it home with 36 laps on fuel in the Indianapolis 500. The fuel window is 32 or 33 laps, max.
Yet he did – strategist and team co-owner Bryan Herta’s now-famous radio call of “clutch and coast” has entered the vernacular – and Rossi became a rookie winner at Indianapolis.
Jaw dropped, because the fact it was the 100th Indianapolis 500 wasn’t monumental enough.
Then, Toyota wasn’t really going to lose a near certain first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We go back to my friend and colleague Luke here, because 10 minutes prior to the race finish, Luke had a rare moment where he wasn’t “on it.” “Toyota’s surely got this…” he tweeted.
Naturally, they didn’t. As Kazuki Nakajima slowed so painfully coming out of the Ford Chicane in the final six minutes and stopped on the front straight, and the Porsche blew past, the hearts stopped once more.
Jaw dropped again, because the fact Toyota had lost its rightful and deserved win was now reality.
And now finally, in a year that really hasn’t had that many jaw-droppers in F1, Rosberg’s beat them both with this news.
So, the quick, first reflection begins with Suzuka. The moment when Rosberg’s teammate Hamilton blew the start in Suzuka in mid-October is now the beginning of the end of Rosberg’s career. Few if any knew it at the time.
Maybe Rosberg did. It appears he has.
Suddenly the metronomic, icy exterior makes all the more sense.
“One race at a time.”
The five words that defined Rosberg’s public persona this season, and hid his inner desire for this moment to be achieved, suddenly loomed larger.
If he took it one race at a time, he’d be one day closer to the end of his career.
The Rosberg that raced just six days ago in Abu Dhabi was not the Rosberg we saw for the bulk of now his 11-year career. He was aggressive, as witnessed by that pass on Max Verstappen. He was calculated; knowing that even as Hamilton was backing him up to try to force him into making a mistake, he knew all he had to do was stand his ground.
And the emotion that was released upon finishing the race? That wasn’t robotic Rosberg. That was human Nico.
Human Nico is now who he can be for the rest of his life. A husband. A dad. And now, a World Champion.
No one can take that away from him.
But, Nico, I do have one final request.
Can you make the rounds to pick our collective jaws up off the ground?