What would F1 be like if Nico Rosberg hadn't retired?
The Butterfly Effect is a commonly used analogy that expresses the idea of one small change causing a huge effect in a different area. Looking back at Nico Rosberg's shock announcement after winning the 2016 Formula One World Championship; this move alone caused a lot to change in the F1 paddock. Today, we are going to take a look at how the retirement of Nico Rosberg changed the F1 grid for the last few years.
The start of the end
Nico Rosberg had made his mind up about retiring as early as the Japanese Grand Prix in 2016. The German claimed that he decided it was a good time to hang up his crash-helmet for good if he was able to beat his 3-time world champion teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg ended up beating the Brit by 5 points after a tense season finale in Abu Dhabi, and all went quiet for a while after the teams packed up for the final time. Fast-forward to the FIA Awards of 2016 in early December of the year, Nico Rosberg made the official announcement that he was retiring from the sport. His replacement became the Finnish Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, who has now been at Mercedes for 3 years.
The Mercedes F1 team took their third consecutive world championship in 2016. Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Media Site.
What would have happened if Rosberg hadn't retired?
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had a very complicated relationship. This relationship started out strong, but gradually broke down following some drama within the team. Many fans speculate that Nico Rosberg retired because he 'got lucky' and would not be able to beat Lewis Hamilton again - which is why he may have decided to retire. Regardless of the speculation; the deed had been done, and Nico Rosberg has since become a Sky Sports F1 presenter.
Had Nico Rosberg not retired, the F1 grid may look completely different to the way it currently looks. First of all, Valtteri Bottas may still be at Williams, or even another F1 team. Williams might not have dropped off in performance, may have had better results with Bottas still on board, therefore winning more prize money and having a better car package over the last couple of seasons.
Additionally, we may not have seen Charles Leclerc in the Alfa Romeo Sauber in 2018 if Bottas were to switch to that team because of Rosberg staying at Mercedes. As a result of this, Kimi Raikonnen could have kept his seat at Ferrari, and we could have seen Leclerc join a team such as McLaren or Haas.
Obviously this is all speculation. There are many complications involved with some of these ideas, such as contracts and sponsorship deals. However, I feel that talking about what could have been is quite interesting to discuss.
If Rosberg were still in F1, would Hamilton still be a six-time world champion?
This is a tough question. Nico Rosberg was the biggest challenge that Hamilton has had since Jenson Button was his teammate at McLaren - starting from 2014. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were in equal machinery, which also turned out to be the dominant car of the era. As a result of this, Lewis Hamilton had a much more difficult time at beating his teammate.
Fast forward to 2017; it was a new year, with a new teammate and a fresh start for Hamilton. Ferrari became more competitive than they have been in a long time, and Mercedes look like they had a rivalry on their hands. Ultimately, Mercedes still came out on top due to better reliability, performance and strategy; but Ferrari have been turning it up a notch every year since.
Lewis Hamilton's main rival in 2017 and 2018 was Sebastian Vettel, though this became Valtteri Bottas last year. Had Nico Rosberg still been in Formula One, we could have seen a more dominant series of seasons by Mercedes, and probably less of a fight between Vettel and Hamilton. But would Lewis still be a 6-time world champion? I don't think he would.
Would Lewis Hamilton have stayed at Mercedes?
As I said, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's relationships soured after some drama at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016, as well as drama during qualifying at the Monaco GP. If Nico Rosberg had decided to stay at Mercedes to defend his world championship in 2017, we could have seen Lewis leave the team as soon as possible. But where would he have gone? Ferrari? Red Bull? It all depends on how the contracts worked at the time. I do, however, find it very interesting to consider how different the grid could be.
Could Nico have switched teams?
Once again, the contracts at the time would have likely been a problem, but wouldn't it be interesting if we saw Nico Rosberg go to Ferrari to defend his title? Or maybe even Red Bull? This too would have shaken up the grid, causing changes such as Ricciardo in a Mercedes and Kimi Raikonnen in a Red Bull? It almost feels like an episode of the F1 2019 game's career mode!
Obviously this is unrealistic, but I would love to see your thoughts in the comments!
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