Newly-crowned world champion Rosberg quits Formula 1 to leave empty seat at Mercedes

Nico Rosberg yesterday announced he was retiring from grand prix racing with immediate effect '“ just five days after being crowned Formula 1 world champion.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg celebrates winning the Formula 1 world championship last Sunday (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire).

Rosberg, who only signed a two-year extension to his Mercedes contract in July, made the shock revelation in Vienna as he prepared to receive his champion’s trophy at the FIA prize-giving ceremony.

The 31-year-old German initially informed only a handful of people – including his great rival Lewis Hamilton – of his stunning decision, before revealing he first pondered retirement after he took control of the championship battle with victory at October’s Japanese Grand Prix.

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Rosberg’s move leaves Mercedes, Formula 1’s all-conquering team, who have won 51 of the last 59 races, with a vacancy for 2017. At this stage, it is unclear who they will choose to partner Hamilton.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, insisted the team would begin their search for a replacement next week.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and McLaren’s double world champion Fernando Alonso have been mooted as mouth-watering candidates, but both drivers are under contract with their respective teams next season.

Pascal Wehrlein, a protege of the Mercedes junior driver programme, and Valtteri Bottas of Williams are also in the frame.

Rosberg, who becomes the first reigning Formula 1 champion to retire from the sport since Alain Prost in 1993, said he is now looking forward to the next chapter of his life with wife Vivian, and their one-year-old daughter Alaia.

“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula 1 world champion,” said Rosberg, who started his career with Williams in 2006.

“Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right.”

Rosberg emulated his father Keke, the 1982 world champion.

Hamilton’s reaction: Page 6.