Nico Rosberg: ‘We must build the whole of sport on the foundation of social cause, for the greater good’

Nico Rosberg’s team won the inaugural Extreme E race in the AlUla desert and he hopes the new series’ social conscience will inspire the world of sport to a higher purpose

Lawrence Ostlere@lawrenceostlere
Tuesday 13 April 2021 12:55
Nico Rosberg, Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson celebrate
Nico Rosberg, Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson celebrate

To Nico Rosberg, Nico Rosberg’s Formula One career was about more than just becoming world champion. To Nico Rosberg, Nico Rosberg was an inspiration.

He is discussing his new venture as team owner with Extreme E, a climate-conscious series which aims to raise awareness of environmental crises and promote electric vehicles as it travels the world. Some young drivers like Catie Munnings and Jamie Chadwick have admitted that Extreme E is a nice way to give a little back from a career in motorsport which naturally leaves a footprint on the planet, but to Rosberg that debt has already been paid. “In motorsport we inspire millions, or hundreds of millions of people,” he says. “I think everybody who received that inspiration is grateful.”

If anything, he says, F1’s impact on the world is underappreciated. “It’s been a technological developing platform where everybody’s car today has benefited from. If you have a turbo engine in your car, you’ve benefited from Formula One. If you have a hybrid car, you’ve benefited from Formula One. If you have lightweight materials like every car now has, you’ve benefited from Formula One. So we shouldn’t say that the past is bad or whatever, but what we can do is do it even better in the future.”

Perhaps it is understandable that his default position is to defend a sport which has shaped his entire life, growing up in Monaco as the son of 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg. Certainly there is no questioning his commitment to causes close to his heart, like his passion for sustainable technology, the future of which it becomes clear he intends to play a role in shaping.

Rosberg admits the sport which made his family name must adapt to a changing world. F1 is going to great lengths to address negative parts of its relationship with the planet it circumnavigates each year, with a goal to make its cars and on-track activity carbon net-zero by 2030. This, Rosberg says, is the natural next step in F1’s evolution away from its old perception of gas-guzzling glamour as it becomes more socially aware.

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“They’ve done racism now but there’s always still the next step,” he says, referring to the sport’s efforts to address the Black Lives Matter movement. “One thing is raising awareness which is great, but then the next step is to really implement change in society. Becoming climate neutral by 2030 and all these things will take it in the right direction. I think F1 might look pretty similar in 15 or 20 years, it’s just that the technology will evolve to be emission-free, and it will have its purpose much more deeply ingrained.”

‘Purpose’ is the factor which lured him to Extreme E. The sport aims to be carbon neutral from the get-go, with fully electric SUVs racing through wild and remote locations where environmental challenges are at their most severe in order to bring them to the watching world’s attention. The first destination was the spectacular setting of AlUla in Saudi Arabia – one Rosberg describes as “amazing – where drivers carved a trail through the desert sand, with Rosberg XR clinching the inaugural victory in an entertaining final skirmish against a team owned by his old rival, Lewis Hamilton.

Having a higher purpose, Rosberg says, must be the future of all sports. “We must build the whole of sport on the foundation of social cause, for the greater good, that’s the most important thing. The best thing would be if Extreme E as a championship can become so successful that events like the Olympics, the World Cup will start looking at what we’re doing here and why people are so interested, and maybe embrace that for themselves, and that the Olympics suddenly becomes a purpose platform, the World Cup becomes a purpose platform, and Manchester United, and Bayern Munich... that’s the way we can make an impact.”

This is seemingly what Rosberg the former racing driver (he describes himself as an “entrepreneur” now) wants to achieve with the next phase of his life, and he is nothing if not committed. He played his part in Extreme E’s first ‘legacy project’ which helped a local foundation in preserving the nests of the endangered Hawksbill Turtle on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, and while he was in AlUla he supported Turquoise Mountain, an initiative set up by Prince Charles which helps local craft workers make a viable income.

Nico Rosberg helps out on the beach near Yanbu

Rosberg is also a founder of GreenTech Festival which brings together speakers from around the world to discuss the next sustainable innovations, and offers him the chance to meet with and invest in new companies. “I’m just completely dedicated to sustainability together with my whole team, and the GreenTech Festival for me is another lighthouse project alongside the race team here, because I saw a gap. There wasn’t really a technology festival dedicated to sustainability so we put it together in Berlin and it’s been really a great success. Last year we had Sundar Pichai [Google CEO] taking part. So we really like having great success and a great impact and educating everybody who takes part.”

The lasting impression from a discussion with Rosberg is that this is how he sees his own purpose: to leave a new, lasting impact after his role inspiring millions from behind the wheel of an F1 car, a goal in which Extreme E’s visit to AlUla has played its small part.

“I know that in the next 20 years I want to be working on my legacy. My first legacy is F1 world champion and my second legacy is going to be a life of service for the greater good, where many people have been positively touched.”