An Open Letter to Nico Rosberg.

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(I’ve been procrastinating writing this. But then of course everything changed in a blink of an eye last December 2, so it got fast-tracked. Here goes nothing…)

Dear Nico,

Let me begin by saying that you are not one of my absolute favorites in Formula One. I’m just keeping it real.

But allow me to explain myself, if I may:

I liked you well enough when you burst into the F1 scene in 2006, but by that time my heart was already starting to invest in a certain “Baby Schumi” named Sebastian Vettel, and for some reason, I found you too polished, too privileged, too…slick for my liking. I prefer drivers with an “edge” to them, and you looked straight out of the perfect, pretty, prep school boys’ catalog.

You had the blessing and the curse of being a son of a Formula One World Champion. Will you ever live up to his name or are you all hype? I expected you to do well in F1, to cause a stir just enough and get a few wins here and there; but I didn’t really peg you to be The Next Best Thing. It’s weird because I knew from your racing CV that you’re talented; I just never saw enough spark and hunger in you back then.

Or maybe I should have looked at you more closely.

You spent years as one of the midfield racers, occasionally showing moments of brilliance but never really bothering the top dogs. Vettel and Hamilton easily shoved you aside to grab and share the spotlight that was supposed to be yours. You had podiums and fastest laps, and made exciting moves every now and then, but it wasn’t until you moved to Mercedes to partner the returning Michael Schumacher when I started to really “see” you. I fully expected Schumi to trounce you, but surprisingly, you came out ahead of the matchup, even giving Mercedes their first win of their “new” era. It’s not an easy task to regularly beat a driver of Schumacher’s caliber, but instead of being annoyed, I found myself getting fascinated by your progress. Who is this Rosberg I’m seeing that I was all but oblivious to during his Williams years?

As fate would have it, you were the first ever F1 driver I met in person. You exceeded my expectations, by the way. I was just curious to see you at first but I ended up staying at the event to try to get an autograph. You were nice, and kind, and sweet to us waiting fans. And yes, I have to admit that I was shocked at how good-looking you are in the flesh. But mostly, what I remember is how you treated us fans and how you made us feel. You even apologized to all the other fans who didn’t get to have your signature because you quickly got whisked away by security to your car. Not necessary, but appreciated, nevertheless. All the other fans who’ve met you only have good words to say about you, and that speaks volumes. No wonder your fans are extremely loyal and overprotective of you. I met you again in 2015 and you were as nice and pleasant as ever, you even joked and laughed with me about my bracelet that you mistook for something else. That is why from that 2012 moment on, you jumped from relative obscurity to become my “favorite non-favorite”. Does that even make sense? What the heck, you’re smart, I know you’ll get what I mean.

I am not a Hamilton fan, so when he moved to Mercedes to take over the seat Schumi vacated, I had hoped you’ll continue your good form and show him who’s the boss at Silver Arrows. But fate had other ideas, and although Mercedes skyrocketed to ruthless dominance, Lewis got the better of you. I went, “Where is the Nico that turned me around? Why is he getting sucked into the drama and the mindgames?” I vividly remember getting confused by all the frustration I feel on your behalf.

2014 and 2015 were awful. I wanted you to win the Championship so badly even I surprised myself. That electrical issue during Singapore 2014? I internally wilted. That infamous gust of wind in Austin 2015? I chanelled my inner Tyra Banks and yelled, “I was rooting for you! How dare you?!” at my TV. Do your critics have a point when they say you lack the psychological strength to become F1 Champion? I refused to believe it, despite your snafus and the injustices you suffered. I knew you had it in you. Somewhere in that blonde, polished mien, I knew there’s grit and hardiness that’s waiting to be unleashed.

And you turned it all around. Quietly. Masterfully. I believed yet I still greatly underestimated your bouncebackability and you proved me wrong. Tenacity? Check. Patience? Check. Consistency? Check. Grace under pressure? Check.

You fought back and never gave up on yourself. Amidst a barrage of criticism and blatant bias from fans and media, you revealed what you’re truly made of. When practically most expected you to wither and choke, you stepped up and delivered. The moment you crossed that finish line in Abu Dhabi was the moment you slayed all doubts and slaughtered your own demons in one fell swoop.

I was so proud of you then. So ridiculously proud of you.

And then of course you dropped that certain retirement bombshell–5 days after you won your 1st F1 title. What. The. Heck?!

I was suffering an almighty migraine that night and I remember looking at my mobile phone screen, staring at the words, “Nico Rosberg announces his retirement” and willing them to go away or be some kind of a twisted joke. But alas, it was the cold, hard truth. A myriad of questions from my brain demanded immediate answers: Is he ill? Was this predetermined? Who knew about this? But the biggest question was, “WHY?”

To be honest, I was half-astonished and half-annoyed. The annoyance stemmed from my selfish part: Who would challenge Lewis now? Why didn’t you want the honor and privilege of defending your title? Why did you not give your fans a chance to bid you a proper goodbye?!

Finally, your official statement was released, and although it was expectedly eloquent and heartfelt, it lacked the answers the selfish part of me needed. However, I was truly touched by your words and I legitimately wanted to shed tears by the end of it.

You’re truly something else, Mr. Nico Erik Rosberg. Just when I think I have you all figured out, you come out with ways to surprise me further.

How can I fault you when you say that you are retiring to prioritize your family? How can I stay mad at someone who listened to what their heart is saying and followed the path they wanted, and not just what others expected? There is immense bravery in realizing that at times, quitting is necessary in order to truly win.

What a way to distinguish yourself from other F1 Champions. Chapeau.

I still can’t wrap my head around it, but one day, I will wake up and accept that you won’t be in F1 starting next season. And that for the first time in 23 years, F1 won’t have a defending Champion on the grid. It sucks to lose one of the good guys, but that’s the reality me and millions of other fans just have to deal with.

On behalf of my 2006 Self, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize to you, Nico. I’m so sorry. I was wrong. So wrong to judge you and to stereotype you back then.

You had one hell of a rollercoaster ride in F1. You chased your ultimate dream to the edge of madness and succeeded. In a circus-like world where the narratives were almost always not to your advantage, you took control of your own storyline. Nobody can take away what you have achieved. Ever.

You may not be one of my absolute favorites, but know that you are one of the F1 personalities I truly admire and respect. You’ve made me a fan. I AM a fan. I will truly miss you in F1.

Any chance you can do a World Tour any time soon so your fans can give you a proper farewell, by the way? Please consider. You are always welcome to visit the Philippines.

Now go on and enjoy life outside of Formula One. Cherish your amazing parents and your incredible wife and daughter. Spend time with your wonderful friends. There’s still so much ahead for you and I can’t wait to find out what you have up your sleeves in the future. 

You are a fighter, a gentleman, and a class act. You are and always will be a worthy Champion, not just in racing, but in Life.

Danke, Nico.

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What A Champion: The mic drop that shook the F1 World.

Michael Schumacher: Meeting The Man and What He Means To Me.

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You have no idea how exasperating it is when I talk to someone about Formula One (sometimes at length, with mostly me talking) and they reduce the whole conversation to, “So you have a crush on Michael Schumacher?”

The short of the long answer is: NO, I do not have, and never had, a “crush” on Michael Schumacher. And I mean that in the best, most respectful way possible.

But in order to better explain my point, let me retrace my F1 history.

I began liking F1 as a prepubescent tomboy, when boys were still gross/annoying and I only wore skirts because they were part of my Catholic school uniform.

I chanced upon his name on a scaled model of his Benetton F1 car. I was a full-fledged Benetton kid/snob, so I immediately fell in love with that colorful car. And then I saw the name by the side.

Michael Schumacher. That sounds like a badass name, my preteen self thought. Surely someone who has a name as badass as that and who also gets to race an equally badass car, should be legit badass in real life, right?

And so my F1 story progressed. I scoured the newspapers, went to the library to peruse the magazines, watched the international sports news for snippets, until I finally managed to watch the races on TV. My memory is hazy on when I put a face to his name, but by that time, what he looked like mattered little to me; I’ve already claimed him as my Racing Spirit Animal.

Years went by and I fell even more in love with the sport. It was my awesome little secret, growing up in a basketball-crazy nation. I officially defected from the Enstone team the moment Schumi moved to Ferrari, a little bit sad to leave Benetton but secretly delighted that his new main color is my favorite: Red.

Even during his “barren years”, I was never really worried; I knew in my heart that he’s destined for more championships and that he would end up as the greatest racing driver ever.

It never really occurred to me that it’s possible for me to meet him. During the time when budget airlines were still scarce and I was restrained by the duties of finishing my schooling, attending an F1 race was nothing but a silly pipe dream.

However, everything changed when my mother met Michael Schumacher. Yes, my own mother actually met Schumi a decade ahead of me.

Fate has a quirky sense of humor, at times.

It was during a work trip that coincided with the Malaysian GP. Everything was spur-of-the-moment and a bit of a blur. She didn’t get to have a photo with him but she did get to shake his hand and chat with him a bit. My mother had nothing but good words about him. Most notably, she said he’s really humble and you wouldn’t think you’d be talking to a sporting superstar by the way he put her at ease. “He’s very kind”, she’d repeat over and over again.

I knew he wasn’t the cold, ruthless, heartless, arrogant bastard/machine that the media proclaimed him to be, I thought with a mixture of relief and smugness. I chose my Racing Spirit Animal correctly! Ever since then, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I stand a chance to meet him, too. Imagine my disappointment when he announced his retirement from F1 in 2006. My dream was shattered into tiny pieces.

Three years later, as I sat alone in the office, I found out that he’s returning to Formula 1, this time as a driver for Mercedes GP. I’m not ashamed to say I let out a whoop and danced like a lunatic. The dream is alive again!

I finally watched Michael Schumacher race an F1 car in person when I attended my 2nd GP: The 2010 F1 Night Race in Singapore. I remember standing there on the viewing platform by Turn 14 as he drove past, my mouth unabashedly open and my eyes might as well have had cartoon hearts on it. To say it was a joy to see him race again would be an understatement. I felt like I was on some sort of pilgrimage, paying respects to my racing god.

However, It wasn’t until the 2012 F1 Night Race when finally, FINALLY, the dream of meeting him came to fruition. With the help of a fellow F1 (and Kimi) fan, we waited patiently outside the Paddock Entrance/Exit to try to catch the drivers after Qualifying. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to meet Schumi that night (or day, as it was already past midnight in Singapore then); I mean, why would he choose to exit the paddock by feet when he could easily leave via a chaffeured Mercedes car? Also, I was exhausted, hungry, sleepless–I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. Numerous drivers came and went and I even managed a few autographs. There was a lull for several minutes so I stepped back from the throng of fans to drink some water and hopefully catch a breeze, but then there was this gasp from another fan that my ears miraculously picked up.

I was still rooted to my spot when I saw my fellow fans stir. I couldn’t understand why there was a sudden…reverential silence outside the paddock. “Who’s that?” I asked out loud. My friend had no idea and moved towards the crowd. All of a sudden, someone went, “Michael!” which sent my brain into overdrive.

“Holy shit! Michael? THE Michael Schumacher?! No. What? Seriously? NO WAY!!” my brain screamed.

I surged forward and true enough, there he was, just starting to sign for the small(ish) group of fans gathered behind the barrier. Hilarious but most of them had this “Oh my gosh, it really IS Michael Schumacher” look on their faces, and I bet that not all of them are even fans of his. I wish I had taken a pic of that moment but at that point, I was so awestruck that my motor skills were close to zilch. I managed to take a pic of him, and then proceeded to internally freak out just as he was slowly inching towards my side of the barrier:

There he is! It really is him!

“Shit. What do I do? What do I say to him?”
“Stay calm, FFS. Whatever you do, don’t scream ‘I LOVE YOU, SCHUMI!’ and scare him off.”
“You can do this. Just breathe. Be polite and look him in the eyes, okay?!”

Schumi is getting closer!

A picture of me taking a picture of Schumi. As you can see, I’m already having trouble controlling my camera’s zoom function out of nerves. Ha!

At last, he was right in front of me. The Man Who Was Responsible For My Formula 1 Love Affair. The world may as well have stopped spinning. The concept of time disappeared.

I meekly held out the orange collapsible fan I had the other F1 drivers sign to him. “Michael, please?”, I managed to say in a prim voice that sounded alien to my ears.

“Sure!” He replied cheerfully.
He held a part of the fan while signing, and paused in the middle of it to look at me, probably because my hand was shaking out of nerves and multitudinal feelings. He gave me such a reassuring, “It’s okay, don’t be nervous”-smile and I will never forget the kindness in his eyes. I wish I could have talked to him and told him how important this moment was to me, but I was so overwhelmed that I could only manage a, “Thank you, Michael. Good luck!” along with an “I’m trying my best not to spontaneously combust right in front of you, please forgive my lack of eloquence” smile.

Schumi looked me in the eyes once again, smiled and replied, “No problem at all. Bye!” gave me a farewell wave, and moved on to a group of Japanese girls who immediately and happily encircled him.

I finally got my Schumi autograph!

I couldn’t believe that just really happened. I just had a legit face-to-face interaction with him. And breathe.

I vaguely remember sending out a text blast to my friends screaming in all caps that I’ve met Schumi. I bet they weren’t amused to receive a text at such an ungodly hour but hey ho, no regrets.

In all seriousness, the thing about Michael Schumacher is that he really had that aura of being “somebody” without being arrogant or too self-aware about it. He was kind, he was patient, he had time for everyone who was there, he was polite, he was grounded. “He wore his greatness with grace” was how I described him to my friends and anyone who would care to listen to me tell the tale of how I met him.

Before, I wished I’d have done more: I wish I talked to him, asked him stuff, begged him not to retire yet, shook his hand, took photos with him, asked for a hug, gave him a gift or a letter, the list goes on and on. But then, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t devalue the moment by dwelling on regrets. That moment was how it should have been and that is the beauty and uniqueness of it.

Not every racing fan got the opportunity to meet him and I shall forever hold that memory and experience dear in my heart.

We all know by now what happened to him after he left F1 again, this time for good. There is not a single day where I wish and pray for his wellness and recovery, as I’m sure thousands (maybe even millions) of his other supporters also do.

He’s a man who shared his passion with thousands of others and became an inspiration to so much more. Mine is one of those lives he had changed and affected in some way; I will always defend him and wish him well, no matter what.

It was a pleasure and an honor to have been in his presence and whoever said never to meet your heroes is absolutely wrong because they’ve obviously never met Michael Schumacher. 

He’s more than a racer. He’s a kind, charitable man, a great friend to many and a once-in-a-lifetime type of person.

While there is still a fighting chance, I will never give up. We will never give up.

Keep Fighting, Michael.