VIENNA: Nico Rosberg quit Formula One on Friday, just five days after winning the world title for Mercedes in a move that stunned motor racing.
The 31-year-old German, who beat off team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the finale, is the first reigning champion to quit since Alain Prost in 1993.
Rosberg made the bombshell revelation in Vienna ahead of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) annual awards ceremony.
“I have decided to end my Formula One career here,” said Rosberg, who claimed the title at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday when he came second to Hamilton.
The driver, who had given no previous indication of his intentions, said he had made the decision in the aftermath of his championship triumph.
“It was a process on Monday,” Rosberg added. “I didn’t know if I had the balls, and I took a bit of time. But I am done. End of story, and the next step is being a dad and a husband and I am very much looking forward to that.”
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff paid tribute to Rosberg for making a “brave decision”.
“For the team this is an unexpected situation and an exciting one,” he said. “This is a brave decision by Nico and testament to the strength of his character.
“He has chosen to leave at the pinnacle of his career, as world champion, having achieved his childhood dream. The clarity of his judgment meant I accepted his decision straight away when he told me.”
Rosberg did not say what he planned to do next.
He will leave with a record of 23 wins in 206 races — putting him equal 12th on the all-time lists with Brazilian triple champion Nelson Piquet — and as only the second son of a champion to take the title.
His Finnish father Keke was champion with Williams in 1982.
Rosberg was also the first German driver to win the Formula One title with a German car and team.
“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it,” he added in a statement on social media.
“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.”
Rosberg’s battles with Hamilton, his boyhood friend and rival in karting, have lit up the last couple of seasons — and provided plenty of headlines — and he said that too had taken its toll.
“This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough,” said the man who also partnered seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, and beat him, in his early career at Mercedes.
“I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love too.”
The Monaco-based German married his childhood sweetheart Vivian in Sibold 2014 and they had a daughter last year. A devoted family man, Rosberg said his wife was the first person to know his decision.
He acknowledged that his retirement had put his “racing family” in a difficult position, although Hamilton will now be an even stronger favourite to win his fourth title next season.
Rivals also will see a dream vacancy that every driver on the starting grid would jump at if given the chance, Mercedes being the most dominant team in the sport with 19 wins in 21 races this season.
Mercedes have won the drivers’ and constructors’ titles for the past three years in a row and will start next season, despite significant rule changes, as favourites again.