Within hours of finally achieving his world championship triumph this year, Nico Rosberg decided to quit while he was ahead and abandoned Mercedes.
It was hailed a gutsy move, but if we’re honest, it was a gutless act which left the team who paid him many millions of dollars and gave him the easiest route to a Formula 1 world title he could possibly have – thanks to a car that has been vastly superior in every way to every other car on the grid for several years now – with no hope of finding a decent replacement, as every driver had all been signed for the following season.
Essentially, it was a dog act. The sort of thing an intensely disgruntled employee does to his employer so as to have the last laugh and in some egotistical, deluded mindset, prove that he is irreplaceable by making it damn near impossible to replace him.
— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) December 14, 2016
Since the start of the 2014 season until the end of this year’s campaign, there have been 59 races, with Mercedes picking up pole position on 56 occasions. Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are the only drivers not at the Silver Arrow to pick up pole in the last three years.
Over the same period Mercedes won 51 races, with the next best being Red Bull with five wins (four to Ricciardo and one this year to teenage sensation Max Verstappen) while the other three chequered flags all went to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
These stats very clearly show the dominance of Mercedes. In 2014 and 2016, however, it was deemed that the best Racing Driver in the world was Ricciardo, not a Mercedes driver, which only further proves that the success of Mercedes was just as much to do with their vastly superior car as it was with their drivers.
2016 IN NUMBERS: MOST LAPS COMPLETED
Time to put those feet up… 🍹⛱😎 pic.twitter.com/ycrdzXPGpR
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 22, 2016
And so with massive regulation changes coming in for next season and speculation that Red Bull will close the gap almost entirely with Mercedes, it can be argued that Rosberg took the easy option out. He didn’t want to defend his title and prove he was that good against genuine competition.
So with his cowardly decision, speculation has begun to focus on who would replace him and join the petulant Lewis Hamilton.
Ricciardo and Verstappen have both made it clear that they are happy with Red Bull. And it’s not entirely likely that they’d be welcomed with open arms as they’ve both managed to win races. That sort of ability and competitiveness would likely upset Hamilton.
— 7Sport (@7Sport) December 21, 2016
Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari are even more unlikely to move across. Again, it’s not due to them not being good enough but more because they’re both former world champions. The competition would be too much for Lewis.
Valtteri Bottas at Williams has been strongly tipped to make the move, despite Williams claiming him to be their main reason for being as competitive as they have been in recent times. Finland’s Bottas is experienced but has never won a race or earnt pole position. He’s a nice guy by all accounts which all works in his favour. There have been some suggestions that his non-German background may work against him arose, but it hasn’t stopped the rumours from continuing.
BBC Sport exclusive – Valtteri Bottas: Williams open to letting Finn join Mercedes; hint Massa would replace him https://t.co/JzxABvi1LL
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) December 15, 2016
The remaining experienced top-quality driver left is Fernando Alonso. The fact he’s got some baggage with Lewis, to the point where Alonso chose to not take shit from him back in 2007, would surely be working against him.
This then means Mercedes has to look at an inexperienced driver, which would likely ensure Hamilton stands a good chance of keeping all his toys in the cot for once. This option looks to be the most obvious for just a season while they look to snare any one of a bevy of off-contract drivers at the end of 2017, such as Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Bottas and Verstappen, among many other newcomers.
All the F1 world hopes for is that someone, anyone other than Mercedes or Sebastian Vettel, wins the next World Championship, given they’ve won all the titles since Jenson Button’s success at Brawn in 2009.