Top 5 F1 Comebacks
Published 24th January 2012 - Written by Craig Norman
The Badgerometer is riding the crest of the Kimi Raikonnen comeback wave, and delves into the archives to look at other drivers who have not let retirement, injury or general lack of interest stop them from stepping back into a Formula One car. Enjoy!
Okay, this first entry may be a tad strange, but bear with us – Luca Badoer’s career isn’t as bad as it’s made out. The Italian will forever be remembered for being one of the worst Prancing Horse pilots in recent history, but he was still picked to drive for Ferrari in the first place. Surely that has some merit, right?
Well, kind of. Struggling through with Scuderia Italia, Minardi and Forti from 1993 to 1996, Badoer returned to F1 with Minardi in 1999 and nearly shocked the world by running 4th at the Nurburgring in a rain affected race. His plucky car gave up the ghost just a handful of laps from the end.
But that’s not the whole story. Signing for Ferrari as a test driver, he stayed with the team in that capacity for a nearly a whole decade, playing his part in delivering seven constructor titles in that time. His nadir came in 2009, taking the place of the injured Felipe Massa for two races in 2009. The fact that he was pretty much dead last didn’t deter him from trying though. Bless him.
Our Nige makes the list not because of one comeback, but for the fact that during his career he retired no less than three times, twice being convinced to make another go of it, usually because of a hefty paycheck. Well, who could blame him?
Whilst at Ferrari in 1990 it became clear that he was playing second fiddle to Alain Prost, and when the Frenchman took the Brit’s car during qualifying – at Silverstone no less – Mansell had had enough and quit. It took the combined efforts (and Francs) of Elf and Renault to lure him back to Williams for 1991, and he took the title in 1992 by a country mile. With money being an issue yet again for his ’93 contract (getting the pattern yet?), Mansell retired again, hopping over the Atlantic to win the CART series at his first attempt.
With the death of Ayrton Senna, Williams drafted in young Scot David Coulthard, but again Renault wanted Mansell to drive and bring a bit of gravitas to the French GP that year. Without competitive equipment in the US, Mansell looked to be a perfect fit, qualifying second and running well before retiring – on the track this time. Sharing the seat with Coulthard for the rest of the year, the crowning achievement was winning in Adelaide after Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher collided.
A seat at McLaren beckoned for 1995, but that didn’t end well at all, with Our Nige hanging up his helmet for good after only 2 rounds.
Nope, not for the Mercedes experiment we’re currently witnessing, but for the way he overcame injury in 1999 to try and help Eddie Irvine to Championship glory.
With the season at half distance, it seemed that the battle for the title would go down to old foes Mika Hakkinen and Schumacher, as per the season before. This all changed at Silverstone when this happened:
The German’s brakes failed and he hit the tyre wall at well over 200 mph, luckily only breaking his leg. Still, it put him out for, what most thought would be, the season.
Team-mate Irvine had won the first round in Australia and emerged as Hakkinen’s closest rival, and Schumacher stunned everyone by only missing 6 rounds to return for the very first Malaysian GP. Michael showed he hadn’t lost any of his skill or drive to take pole position by over a second, before moving aside to hand Eddie the win.
When Ferrari sacked The Professor in 1991, the diminutive Frenchman decided to take a sabbatical from the sport for the following season, though he tested a Ligier in the winter. During that time no one knew where Prost might end up, but as the 1992 season drew to a close there were rumblings that Williams had signed him.
With Renault and Elf knowing they were onto a good thing at Williams, they wanted to power a Frenchman to a drivers’ championship and put a cherry on the top of a successful partnership with the Grove-based team. Prost duly delivered in 1993, winning seven times.
Even though he flirted with the idea of joining McLaren-Peugout for the following year, Prost retired for good at the end of his final championship winning year.
“The Rat” walked away from F1 the first time in 1979 in quite the dramatic fashion – mid practice session at Montreal of all places – but when his business ventures began to falter three years later he decided to step back into a cockpit with McLaren. It was here that he showed his class almost immediately.
McLaren were on the up, but Marlboro needed to know if their new, expensive, signing would be able to bring back the old magic. The partnership paid dividends almost instantly, with the Lauda winning the third race of his comeback at Long Beach.
After a disappointing 1983, Lauda was teamed with Alain Prost for 1984. The Woking team cleaned up, winning 12 of the year’s 16 races to dominate the constructors’ championship, and it was the Austrian who claimed the title by only half a point from Prost, despite winning only 5 races to the Frenchman’s seven. Lauda had completed the comeback, and won his third title a full seven years after his last, with two seasons off.
Kimi and Michael take note.
There’s been plenty of stalled comebacks throughout time too though, but none as bad as Alex Zanardi’s. His first stint in F1 came in the early ’90s, having occasional drives with Jordan and Minardi, before sealing a full time seat at Lotus (the original one). In ’93 he scored a point, before a massive crash at Spa kept him out of the sport until ’94, when the team folded.
Heading to America, Zanardi’s bravery and skill led him to back-to-back CART titles at the end of the decade, which led to Frank Williams signing him for 1999. Although the Williams was quick – Ralf Schumacher scored 3 podiums and 35 points – the Italian failed to score at all, seeing him dumped at the end of the year.
It wasn’t all bad though, the highlight being briefly holding 2nd at Monza: