Former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg made his name racing the ultimate in gasoline-powered vehicles in the world’s premier motorsport. But these days he is much more concerned with sustainability. Rosberg is currently in the UK for the return of Formula E to London after a four-year hiatus. He is also the ambassador for Heineken’s new Greener Bar initiative, which has made its debut at the London E-Prix. I got a chance to talk to the former champion at the launch event about what the new bar concept was all about, as well as his own commitments to environmental racing and tackling climate change.
“The Heineken Greener Bar showcases how companies can reduce, reuse and recycle,” he says. “It shows Heineken’s dedication to sustainability.” The Greener Bar (take a virtual tour here) boasts some impressive figures in this respect, saving up to 6,539kg of event waste, 5,335kW of energy, 21,128kg of C02 emissions and 25,108 liters of water, thanks to universal use of recycled materials, all of which can then go on to be used again in another Greener Bar.
The London Formula E races are a fitting place for the Heineken Greener Bar to be launched. Since the series’ conception a decade ago and its inaugural 2014 race in Beijing, China, Formula E has promoted electrification and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in racing. Rosberg was an early-stage investor in Formula E, believing the series would be a success. “It’s an opportunity for manufacturers to showcase sustainability,” he says. “It shows they are committed to making the planet greener every single day and shows that sustainable racing can be enjoyable.”
However, Rosberg doesn’t see Formula E taking over from Formula 1, nor does he see F1 dying out. “They are two very different things,” he explains. “Formula E is in city centers and it’s about the future of mobility. Formula 1 is gladiatorial combat in cars with peak performance, an entertainment sport.” He sees F1 switching to synthetic fuels, explaining that already this year the competition was using 10% biofuels. “At the moment this comes from food stock, which has ethical implications. But the next generation will be from waste products, and then synthetic fuels will arrive in 2025. Formula 1 can play a trailblazing role for synthetic fuels. They could be a faster way to get to e-mobility.”
However, although Rosberg invested in Formula E, he has made a much more proactive commitment to the new electric motorsport, Extreme E. This is an off-road series that involves races held in some of the most endangered environments in the world, using hugely powerful “Odyssey” electric SUVs and a racing team with one male and one female driver paired together. Rosberg has not only invested, but he is also an Extreme E team owner. “It’s a sister race series to Formula E but built around a social cause,” explains Rosberg. “That’s what I like about it. It’s built around equality, and that’s really exciting to see.”
Rosberg particularly likes the way Extreme E is not just about the racing, but how it raises awareness around the threats to the areas where the racing takes place. “Extreme E is involved in local initiatives to counteract threats and to slow down and stop climate change,” he says. “In Senegal, we planted one million mangroves. Extreme E involves campaigns driven by purpose.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Extreme E for racing fans, however, is how it rekindles the longstanding rivalry between Nico Rosberg and former Mercedes F1 teammate Lewis Hamilton, who also owns an Extreme E team. However, so far the Rosberg X Racing team has the upper hand over Hamilton’s X44, winning the inaugural event and the second race in Senegal, with a current healthy team points lead. Rosberg doesn’t seem to think the rivalry holds any bitterness, though. “It’s really exciting,” he says. “It’s great to see that Lewis has joined the path of sustainability. Fans love watching the battle of Rosberg against Hamilton. It makes the competition more intense.”
Rosberg also drives an electric car himself, an Audi e-tron, backing up his public promotion of sustainability with his own choice in personal transportation. “It’s a great family car and is nice for the conscience!” he exclaims. “I use an eco-friendly energy provider, and that saves going to the fuel station. It’s a normal car.”
However, Rosberg also reckons that for electric vehicles to catch on enough to help prevent the climate crisis, governments need to do more, including in the UK. “The UK government has taken a great step by promising to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2030,” he says. “That’s a big commitment. However, they also need to encourage a faster roll out of electric charging stations with more grants and more support. They need to take any way they can to further subsidize electric cars.”
Nevertheless, Rosberg is still optimistic that we can solve the climate crisis. “This will be a decisive decade,” he argues. “But countries are doing more and more, forcing the hands of companies on CO2 emissions. The companies know they have to get behind it. This is why I’m super proud to be associated with Heineken and the Greener Bar.”
Rosberg’s commitment seems to extend to his own health. When I ask Nico Rosberg what his favorite beer is, the answer is not Heineken’s famously red-star-branded classic lager, but the recently launched non-alcoholic 0.0 version. It seems that after making his name in a sport that burns energy at a prodigious rate with considerable risk of personal injury, Nico Rosberg’s commitment to sustaining his own body is as strong as his desire to sustain the planet.