Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg did not retire from racing at the peak of his success for nothing. He did it for a cause bigger than himself – and, indeed, bigger than us all. Determined to inject energy, excitement, and enthusiasm into green tech and its role in tackling the climate emergency, he is now arguably carving out an even more respected reputation off the track…
Photos courtesy of Nico Rosberg.
One of the hardest transitions for sports people is stepping down from the stage. When is the right time? Where do you put all that competitive drive? How do you re-direct the skillsets developed through decades of discipline and focus? What’s the key to staying energised and motivated?
They are tough questions for anyone – but, happily, it seems Nico Rosberg has found his answers.
In 2016, just five days after clinching the Formula One World Championship title, he announced his retirement from motor racing. With this surprise decision to walk away while at the top of his game, did he demonstrate to the world that there’s more to life than competition?
“I suppose I’d learnt so much about human needs and about myself while racing. I truly felt my long-term future was to live a life of service in some form or another,” he explains. “When I won the world championship, I’d achieved what I’d spent so long aiming for, so it was time for a change. I needed to keep giving myself challenges.”
An engineer’s mindset
This newfound challenge manifested itself by Nico looking both to the future (seeing the need for a more sustainable model of business) and drawing on his past passions and talent: in particular, engineering.
Known as an exceptional racer not just for his skills on the track, but his deep understanding of F1 engineering, Nico achieved the highest score ever in Williams’s Engineering Aptitude Test. In fact, before racing professionally, he was set to study aeronautical engineering at Imperial College London.
“I suppose I’ve always been interested in engineering, even from a young age. When I was competing, it drew my interest because I understood that by grasping the engineering side of motorsport, I was only going to become quicker.
“I remember visiting the Mercedes factory in Brackley. I felt it was so important to understand the process and development being done on the car. Professional sportsmanship is all about being consistent in your application and persistent in your drive to become better. The same qualities relate to engineering: how can you refine the process? What’s holding you back and how do you find the solution? How do you ensure you remain focused and driven 100 percent of the time to achieve your goals?
“Nowadays, of course, my interest in engineering is more to do with smart mobility solutions that drive sustainability and refine the way society gets from A to B.”
Indeed, Nico’s move into the world of sustainable entrepreneurship and green tech is something that draws on his racing-skillset: “Throughout my racing career I had the opportunity to work in incredible teams with some of the best engineers on the planet. What engineers and mechanics are great at – and this is particularly true in F1 – is being problem-solvers whose passion is helping the driver get the most out of their car. It’s that same passion I see in the sustainability experts I work with: they’re assessing today’s environmental issues and the problems they might cause tomorrow, and then reacting with the best possible solutions.”
What engineers and mechanics are great at – and this is particularly true in F1 – is being problem-solvers whose passion is helping the driver get the most out of their car. It’s that same passion I see in the sustainability experts I work with.
In 2019, Nico co-founded Greentech Festival in Berlin, aiming to unite a global community of these innovators and change-makers. This year’s event saw the likes of Google, Audi, NIO, Volocopter, and more take part to raise awareness and signify their commitment to driving society forward in a sustainability-conscious manner.
“The festival is really about hope, possibilities, and ideas for a sustainable lifestyle,” says Nico. “We’re celebrating and advancing the technologies that will make our future lifestyles possible. Our aim is to bring the enormous potential of green technologies to life. We’re at a critical point in our lifetimes where the need to adopt sustainable solutions to facilitate our everyday lives is crucial. It’s these technologies and the way in which they are adopted that will make the biggest difference in protecting our planet and helping achieve environmental goals, such as the EU’s 2030 & 2050 climate targets, and help support the great work of leaders such as Christiana Figueres, the founder of the UN Paris Agreement.
“We’ve seen a huge global shift in momentum, commitment, and attitude to green technology in recent years by business, sport, and society. One of the biggest challenges is how we shift the consumer mindset and not just showcase smart solutions but also demonstrate how they can integrate into everyday life. I firmly believe that if we inspire and captivate as many people as possible around the world, we can help accelerate the positive change.”
Being a part of the growth of the sport and its impact on people’s perceptions of electric vehicles has been amazing. I’m confident it will continue to grow further.
One of the areas in which Nico is particularly well-equipped to inspire and captivate people is Formula E, the global motorsport championship that permits only electric cars. As an early investor in Formula E, he’s seen it grow from a motorsport start-up into an FIA-approved World Championship as of next season. In 2019, just five years after the series launched, Formula E was valued at $1 billion, and it currently has nine manufacturers/OEMs in the series.
“Being a part of the growth of the sport and its impact on people’s perceptions of electric vehicles has been amazing,” he enthuses. “I’m confident it will continue to grow further. The racing is great, too – I’d encourage anyone to watch it! I think we’re making very good progress with not only electric cars but hydrogen-powered vehicles, which will ultimately be the perfect form of propulsion in the future. It’s true that hydrogen power has its challenges in terms of storage and cost of development, but it has so many promising potentials. Autonomous cars are progressing well too, and I think they provide a huge hope for the future in saving lives, as well as providing more convenience.”
It’s clear Nico is truly excited by the advances being made in the world of green mobility and he can’t wait to see what the next few years hold for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft in particular. A VTOL aircraft is one that can hover, take off, and land vertically, such as helicopters and small drones, right through to military jets and – wait for it – flying taxis. VTOL technology means aircraft can theoretically take off and land almost anywhere, making them far more flexible – and, more importantly, they’re powered by electric motors. With Uber recently unveiling plans to launch these ‘flying taxis’, you might want to bet on them being the buzzword of 2021, and it’s clear they’ll be a major part of our future smart cities.
“One of my big passions is VTOL aircraft,” explains Nico. “It’s great to see the industry moving closer to becoming commercialised. I’m working with Volocopter whose technology will see VTOL transportation become a reality. The real value, alongside the climate benefits of course, is that this kind of technology will help to democratise flying, reduce costs, and provide flexibility when it comes to green travel. I’ve already received my ticket for the first air taxi flight and can’t wait to see others around the world do the same in the coming months.”
Nico now sits as a sustainability investor on Die Höhle der Löwen (the German edition of Dragons’ Den): “I’ve had a lot of fun being a dragon in Germany! It’s fascinating to see some incredible companies coming through and doing so well thanks to the show. My own area of expertise is in green investment, and I’m looking forward to supporting the best of those sustainability-focused projects as they come through.”
The real value, alongside the climate benefits of course, is that this kind of technology will help to democratise flying, reduce costs, and provide flexibility when it comes to green travel.
Like any great spokesperson for a global cause, Nico’s visceral excitement is resonating with more and more people, and support for green start-ups is gathering momentum. The communication skills needed to cut through conventional expectations and ways of doing things is immense, but it’s something he believes we’ve all got better at this year.
“Communication has never been more important than in a tough year like 2020 where we haven’t all been together in the same room. I think we’ve all learned to do it better, and that spending time together in whatever way we can is precious. Particularly for me, as someone who was often away travelling for work, having quality time with my two daughters and wife has been such a gift. We have had some really special moments, whether it’s home-schooling them or teaching them about sustainable practices, and growing fruit and vegetables in our garden.
“The pandemic has, in some ways, helped to make both governments and individuals focus on the need for accelerated change. We have all had the opportunity to see and experience the benefits of not just quieter cities but much cleaner cities too – but there’s still frustration in getting the powers that be to understand how urgent this issue is. Ultimately though, I’m certain that, collectively, we have realised we need to care more for the environment and also each other too.”