Nico Rosberg: 'To do good you need to get out there, you can’t sit in a cave'

Nico Rosberg’s eyes these days seem to truly reflect the former Formula One world champion’s soul. They are vivid, fascinating windows to his feelings, far from the steely glare that emerged from beneath his F1 visor. Here then is the bright, joyous moment of recalling how it felt to win that world championship swiftly subsumed by the earnest gaze of the man who walked away from F1 to dedicate his life to addressing the climate emergency. The eyes truly have it as Rosberg leaves no doubts which is now of the greater import.

“It’s ecstasy when you win races and championships, an unbelievably thrilling experience, such ecstasy," hy sê. “But my feeling is that to be on this path now gives me a longer-term fulfilment, where I am focusing on being of service to many, many people around the world and that makes me proud.”

Rosberg has the zeal of a convert, allied to thoughtful consideration of how he believes he can best implement change. He believes he has found it in the form of the new Extreme E motor racing series, but his ambitions are grander still. He wants to instigate transformation in the very nature of global sport’s relationship with climate change, including at Manchester United and football’s biggest clubs.

Rosberg won his F1 title in 2016, matching the one scored by his Father Keke in 1982. He remains the only driver to have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the title since 2014 en, knowing he had reached a career high, retired immediately afterwards. Rosberg had started racing competitively when he was six in 1991 and it had been his entire life until the championship was sealed.

He admits swiftly realising that away from F1’s all-consuming circus there was a broader perspective to be had on life. Suddenly F1 felt a world away and the real world was in a chillingly perilous state. “It was searching for more purpose in my life, to find a greater feeling of fulfilment in what I am doing," hy sê. “I told myself I would live more of a life of service as an entrepreneur and make sure my projects are to the benefit of many people in the world.”

The most energetic of racing drivers might find media work or work for teams. Since 2016 Rosberg has dedicated himself to supporting sustainability causes, backing green technologies, and mobility startups, including the electric Formula E. He founded the Greentech festival in 2019 to promote green and sustainable technology. His work has been recognised with the GreenTec Entrepreneur of the Year environmental award.

Nou, egter, he is back in a hands-on capacity in racing – green racing, natuurlik. Rosberg was one of the first to sign up to the Extreme E series when it was announced last year. He is founder and owner, and his team, Rosberg X Racing, and former F1 world championship rivals have followed suit. Hamilton has also joined the series, as owner of the X44 team, as has Jenson Button, who will also drive for his JBXE squad.

Like Rosberg, Hamilton will not drive but the German welcomes a friendly reignition of the rivalry that had ended with the former friends in a bitter, fractious relationship at Mercedes. The competitive edge never goes away as he notes that he was in front of his rival in embracing the new series.

“It’s fantastic that Lewis is building a passion project alongside F1 already with Extreme E and that we will be battling each other," hy sê. “He has such huge reach and power that’s definitely going to make a difference. It’s great that he is following my footsteps down this path of sustainability.”

The cause here is what really matters to him, wel. Extreme E is an entirely new concept with a dual purpose: to go racing in a sustainable fashion and promote definitive social goals. For the latter to work the former has to appeal. “The motor sport is a vehicle to transport the message," hy sê. “Some people would not tune in if it was just about the message, here we are going to entertain with the racing. If it was just about climate change then maybe they wouldn’t watch because they are more passionate about motor sports than climate change.”

This weekend the series will hold its opening “X-Prix” in Saudi Arabia and we shall see whether in delivering the entertainment at least they have been successful. An off-road challenge consisting of nine teams, all using the same electric Odyssey 21 SUVs, the series is intended to be carbon neutral. No fans will attend and to minimise emissions from logistics the paddock is located on the RMS St Helena, a ship repurposed to carry the teams and equipment without using air freight. It will also house a scientific group that will carry out experiments and run legacy projects at each venue, designed to directly address the environmental challenges in each location.

Each of the five venues has been chosen to highlight a different aspect of how the climate emergency is threatening the environment, such as desertification in Saudi Arabia, or retreating glaciers and damaged rainforests. The ship will also use hydrogen fuel cells to generate the electricity to charge the cars, while drones instead of helicopters will follow the action for broadcasters.

Perhaps most strikingly, Extreme E will be the first series to require teams to use both a male and female driver, with each completing one lap before switching over in the pits. Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, winner of the inaugural W Series in 2019, will drive for the Veloce team. It is a suitably forward-thinking policy from the championship, which is unafraid of looking at new ways of doing things, believes Rosberg.

“It was great to see that approach," hy sê. “Equality is a big concern at the moment in the world. Not only racism but equality in general. Motorsport females are so underrepresented and that is really a pity, and that’s why Extreme E are leading the way.”

There is no paucity of ambition here and clearly Rosberg has been gripped by its potential beyond the confines of motor racing. The German believes the series should also lead the way on a grander scale across sport and has challenged football in particular to take up.

“The vision here has to be that the sporting institutions, the likes of Manchester United, one day very soon will integrate this social cause and purpose within their fundamental structure," hy sê. “I really wish we can be a driving force for the leading sports teams around the world to join in the fight for climate changes. I hope to raise that awareness for other sports teams to join in.

“The soccer teams, the reach they have to raise awareness and to mobilise people around the world to join this cause and to do their part, it’s so powerful. Probably the greatest opportunity we have in the world is through sport.”

Nor is this a pipe dream by Rosberg who cites the example of Ajax’s stadium that in 2018 began using solar panels and used electric vehicle batteries to cut its CO2 output by more than 115,000 tonnes and feed surplus energy back into the grid.

Rosberg’s decision to embrace this environmental cause as the new driving force in his life is a striking one. His enthusiasm is as great as it was for F1 but his aims are loftier and it is refreshing to find a driver who has shrugged off what had previously defined his entire life to embrace a cause so publicly and vehemently.

This new passion will almost certainly not deliver the ecstasy that comes in taking the chequered flag but instead Rosberg enjoys a quiet, committed certitude that to do nothing would be a disaster.

“To do good in the world you need to get out there, you can’t just sit in a cave," hy sê. “The problem is the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to stop the process so it’s more important that we act now,” he says before concluding with eyes that brook little dissent. “This is the decisive decade.”

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