Nico Rosberg case - Formula 1 champions who didn't return to defend a title

  • Formula One grid
  • Formula One checkered flag
  • Formula One champagne, Jackie Stewart

Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula One surprised everybody, mostly his own team which gave him a new contract this summer, to drive for Mercedes until the end of 2018 season. Well, it wouldn’t happen because Nico followed his heart and said ‘I fulfilled my dream and it’s enough’. So, in the 2017 Formula One season there will be no defending world champion on the grid.

Nico Rosberg and wife

Nico Rosberg and his wife after announcement of retirement

Before Rosberg, six champions refused to defend their titles

It wouldn’t be the first such a scenario in a history of Formula One. The last time similar thing happened in 1994 when Alain Prost retired before the season and didn’t return to defend his title. Of course, the main difference is that Prost was a 39-year-old four-time champion when retired in 1993 while Nico Rosberg pulls out at the age 31, after his first title.

In total, there were six Formula One seasons in which champions didn’t return to the grid to defend their titles. Death or injuries were reasons in three occasions. In other three, drivers retired from racing or changed a competition.

Juan Manuel Fangio in 1952

Juan Manuel Fangio in 1952

A broken neck forced Fangio to sit out for complete season

The great Juan Manuel Fangio was the first who had no chance to defend his title back in 1952. After winning the world’s title in 1951 with Alfa Romeo, the team withdrew from the championship, so Fangio had no car to drive in the F1 championship. In June, he participated in two non-championship races (Albi and Dundrod) with BRM V16. After participating at Ulster Trophy at Dundrod Circuit on June 7, he wanted to drive next day for Maserati in the non-championship race at Monza.

He missed a connecting flight so he decided to drive through the night from Paris, arriving half an hour before the start of the race. Extremely tired because of lack  of sleep, Fangio started the race from the back of the grid but lost control on the second lap, crashed into a grass bank and was thrown out of the car. He was taken to hospital with multiple injuries, the most serious being a broken neck. The rest of the year he spent recovering in Argentina and missing out the complete F1 season. Fangio returned to racing in 1953, winning four more consecutive F1 titles between 1954 and 1957. He retired in 1958, at the age 47.

Mike Hawthorn, Ferrari

Mike Hawthorn retired immediately after winning the championship

Mike Hawthorn pull out and then lost his life in a crash

The 1958 Formula One champion was Mike Hawthorn. Same as Nico Rosberg did, Mike Hawthorn also announced retirement from Formula One immediately after winning the title, driving for Ferrari. He won the title with just one victory, ahead of Stirling Moss, who won four times.

Hawthorn was just 29 years old at the time of retirement. Even he wanted to defend his title, he wouldn’t have a chance because he was killed in a road traffic accident on January 22, 1959.

Jochen Rindt, 1970 British Grand Prix

Jochen Rindt and his wife after winning the 1970 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch

Jochen Rindt – the only posthumously awarded F1 champion

The third driver on this list was also dead during the Formula One season which followed after his championship-winning season. Unfortunately, he was dead even before he won the title. Of course, we are talking about Jochen Rindt, the first and only posthumously awarded Formula 1 champion.

He lost his life on September 5, 1970, at Autodromo Nazionale Monza, in a crash during the practice session for the Italian Grand Prix, the tenth round of the championship. Earlier in the season, Rindt has won five races and he had a 20-point advantage over Jack Brabham (45:25). Until the end of the season, Jacky Ickx collected 40 points, so Rindt remained in the lead and won the championship.

Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert

Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert

Jackie Stewart’s retirement boosted by Cevert’s death

The death of the driver was also a cause of retirement for the 1973 F1 champion, Jackie Stewart. He decided to retire even before the 1973 season, in which he won his third title, but his decision was boosted by the death of his teammate Francois Cevert.

The Frenchman lost his life during the practice for the last round of the championship (United States Grand Prix) at Watkins Glen. Stewart skipped that race, which would his 100th F1 Grand Prix start in a career, but his points advantage was big enough to take the title.

1992 Formula One champion Nigel Mansell

1992 Formula One champion Nigel Mansell

Mansell left F1 to win CART Indy Car title

The next driver who didn’t try to defend his F1 title was Nigel Mansell. He won the 1992 title driving for Williams but left the team at the end of the season because he didn’t agree to have Alain Prost as a teammate for 1993.

Instead of staying in Formula One, Mansell moved to the CART Indy Car Series, winning the title with Newman/Haas Racing. He became the only driver in a history to hold both the Formula One and CART championships at the same time, because when he won the 1993 CART title he was still the reigning F1 world champion.

Alain Prost, 1993

Alain Prost left Formula One at the end of 1993

Alain Prost’s fake retirement and fourth title

Mansell’s beloved Alain Prost won the Formula One championship title in 1993, his fourth in a career, and he retired immediately after that. It was his second retirement after he took a sabbatical in 1992 and then returned to drive one more season with Williams.

At the end of 1993 season, with a championship trophy in his hands, he retired from racing at the age 38, handing the 1994 title to Michael Schumacher without a fight.