It was the news which sent shockwaves through Formula 1 at the end of 2016, when newly crowned world champion Nico Rosberg decided to quit at the top and retire from racing just days after sealing the title.

Following an intense and season-long battle against Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, the German held on to take the 2016 F1 crown by just five points when he finished runner-up to the British driver at the Abu Dhabi season finale.

It completed a lifelong ambition for Rosberg, as he became F1 world champion and emulated his father Keke Rosberg who won the title back in 1982 – becoming the second father-son world champions after Graham and Damon Hill.

While wild celebrations were the minimum expected from Rosberg, absolutely nobody anticipated the German to call time on his career aged just 31 – least of all Mercedes and team boss Toto Wolff.

But five days after completing a lifetime objective, Rosberg walked away from F1, Mercedes and almost the entire scope of his racing connections. The German said his reasons for retiring were to spend more time with his young family and to no longer have to put them second behind racing, while since he retired he has moved into driver management, punditry, and entrepreneurship.

But rewinding the clock back to the end of 2016, what would have Rosberg faced if he didn’t tear up his Mercedes contract and head into the sunset?

Put simply, 2017 is relatively straightforward to predict due to the direct impact Rosberg’s retirement call had on that season but pushing beyond the F1 campaign when Rosberg would have been defending champion depends largely on the outcome on the season that never was.

Focusing on the season where Rosberg could have run the #1 plate on his Mercedes, the very obvious starting point is Mercedes wouldn’t have gone into the winter with an incomplete driver line-up alongside Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas was crowbarred out of his Williams deal to join Mercedes, with the help of some financial and technical agreements, while it also saw a retirement U-turn from Felipe Massa who had already given his emotional goodbye to F1.

With Bottas staying put and Massa still leaving F1 to eventually head to Formula E, Lance Stroll would still make his Grand Prix debut in 2017 at Williams but with a Finnish teammate rather than a Brazilian one.

Looking at Mercedes, 2017 had been anticipated to hold a battle between F1 royalty with Rosberg as reigning world champion against overthrown teammate Hamilton, while fellow former champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen would also be in contention for Ferrari.

In the context of Rosberg being in equal machinery to Hamilton as Mercedes teammates and weighing in his previous performances from his title-winning year – which saw him take nine wins and seven additional podiums – in all likelihood the German driver would have expected to fight for the title against Hamilton all the way up to the Abu Dhabi finale.

In Valtteri Bottas’s debut season at Mercedes he notched up three wins and 10 further podiums, while also helping complete four 1-2 finishes for the Silver Arrows that year, as the Finn finished in third place in the drivers’ standings and just 12 points behind Vettel.

But along with emerging talent Max Verstappen at Red Bull and his talented teammate Daniel Ricciardo, that year’s title battle could have been wide open if Mercedes’ domination was curtailed by scrapping teammates.

Instead, Hamilton charged to the 2017 F1 crown, albeit aided by a late-season Ferrari collapse, which saw the Mercedes driver seal his fourth world championship by 46 points come the end of the season.

Whether Hamilton or Rosberg would have won the 2017 F1 title is difficult to predict, with many putting Hamilton as favourite looking for revenge after losing the crown the year before, while the intra-team fight at Mercedes could have boiled over and allowed Vettel and Ferrari to take advantage instead of making errors which undid his title challenge.

Regardless of how the driver standings ended up in the 2017 world championship, Rosberg almost certainly would have stayed at Mercedes for the following year given the stable driver market limiting options away from the Silver Arrows in 2018.

That would have seen Bottas also stay put at Williams for another year and duly deny a youngster the chance to move into F1 – as Sergey Sirotkin did at the Grove team in 2018 next to Stroll after Massa retired for the second time.

But predicting what would happen to Rosberg, Mercedes and F1 itself from 2018 and beyond, assuming he continued racing, relies too heavily on events from the previous 18 months.

What do you think would have happened if Rosberg didn’t retire after winning his F1 title at the end of 2016? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

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