Mercedes will begin their search on Monday for Lewis Hamilton’s new teammate after new world champion Nico Rosberg’s sensational announcement that he is quitting Formula One.
Rosberg, who was crowned only six days ago in Abu Dhabi, stunned the sporting world on Friday after revealing his retirement with immediate effect.
The 31-year-old German initially informed only a handful of people – including his great rival Hamilton – before telling the world of his decision ahead of the FIA’s annual awards ceremony in Vienna.
Rosberg’s move leaves Mercedes, who have won 51 of the past 59 races, with a vacancy for 2017.
At this stage, it is unclear who Mercedes will choose to partner Hamilton, although they insist they are in no rush to reach a decision.
Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion of Ferrari and McLaren’s double world titleholder Fernando Alonso have been mooted as candidates, but both drivers are under contract with their respective teams next season.
Pascal Wehrlein, a protege of the Mercedes junior driver program, and Valtteri Bottas of Williams are also in the frame.
“Now we have to consider all options, but it will be very hard to replace him,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. “We will start to look at this on Monday.
“For the team, this is an unexpected situation but also an exciting one. We are going into a new era of technical regulations and there is a free Mercedes cockpit for the seasons ahead. We will take the necessary time to evaluate our options and then find the right path for our future.
“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 judgement meant I accepted his decision straight away when he told me.”
Rosberg, who becomes the first reigning Formula One champion to retire since Alain Prost in 1993, has revealed he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life with wife Vivian, and their one-year-old daughter Alaia.
Rosberg emulated his father Keke, the 1982 world champion, after he crossed the line in second place on Sunday following a tense season finale.