Cher once asked if you ‘believe in life after love’, a meaningless and irritating lyric that only sticks with us because of the meaningless, irritating nature of the song it called its home. A far better question, dearest Cher, would have been whether there was life after Formula One…
Anyway, the break in the F1 proceedings gives us a chance to answer that question by catching up with a few old friends who we don’t see quite so much any more.
Sometimes when a driver leaves F1 it can seem like they’ve vanished off the face of the earth, but 9 out of 10 of them continue racing. Sure, some may turn to international property development (Eddie Irvine) the aviation business (Niki Lauda) or running for political office in their homeland (Carlos Reutemaan) but the majority can’t shake the racing bug and continue to get their fix outside Formula One.
So, whilst the F1 circus was trying to navigate its way out of China and back to Europe, Badger was checking in on a few recent F1 leavers to see how they’re getting on in pastures new.
First up it’s that fun-loving, brilliantly quick, man of few words: Kimi Raikkonen. He’s off tackling ice and gravel, whilst dodging trees and over eager photographers, having swapped F1 for the World Rally Championship.
Unsurprisingly he’s still adjusting, what with F1 and rally cars being very different beasts. But he’s already got points on the board, having finished 8th at the 3rd round, thus becoming only the second man to score points in both F1 and the WRC. At the next round he took a very credible 5th place finish, and he looks to be growing in confidence with each passing event. Will Kimi be back in F1 next year, or might he decide that the rallying world is a better home for him?
Kimi’s old teammate Juan Pablo Montoya has been gone from F1 for nearly 4 years now, and opinion is split on whether his departure was a huge loss or a great relief.
But like him or not you can’t escape the fact the Montoya was a very quick and feisty driver, and one who always spoke his mind. Badger has missed the larger than life Colombian’s presence in the F1 paddock since he switched to the American stock-car series NASCAR.
Racing-wise he’s performed well, better than other drivers who’ve swapped single-seaters for stock cars anyway, and last year finished 11th from a field of over 40 competitors. He’s won a fair few fans across the pond too, and that’s an achievement in a sport that sees F1 drivers as overpaid and overrated.
He’s not the only ex-F1 man in NASCAR, with Scott Speed– who will probably end up being remembered as the bloke Sebastien Vettel replaced to get his F1 break- competing there too, in Red Bull colours of course. Nelson Piquet Jr also races there, albeit in the lower-tier NASCAR Truck Series. And yes, he does race an actual race modified pick-up truck, much like the one you see below.
Having failed to land an F1 drive since Super Aguri folded in 2008 Takuma Sato has joined the Indycar series for 2010. For those who don’t know Indycar mixes oval races with F1-style circuit and street racing, so Takuma’s not spending the whole year driving round in circles.
You’d think Sato’s F1 experience would prepare him well for the non-oval events, but with four rounds complete, all on road and street courses, he’s had an aboslute nightmare. He caused a start line crash at the season opener, threw it in to the wall at round 2, was the victim of technical gremlins at round 3 and had a spin-affected run to 18th last time out. All that means he currently sits a lowly 23rd in the standings.
But a quick word for Indycar’s other F1 ex-pat: Justin Wilson, who competed in 17 grands prix for Minardi and Jaguar back in 2003, has had a stellar start to the season, taking two second place finishes, and currently sits an impressive 4th in the standings. A genuine British talent lost to F1? This reporter certainly feels that way- not that they’ve been in short supply in the last few years.
After being fired by Toro Rosso midway through 2009 Sebastien Bourdais now races in Superleague Formula, the racing series that paints cars in football teams’ colours and races them across the globe. After his nightmare season and a half in F1 Bourdais is having a much better time of it in Superleague, winning races and enjoying the big prize pot the series offers. And he’s not the only ex-F1 racer there: Franck Montagny, who drove for Super Aguri in 2006, Robert Doornbos, formerly of Minardi and Red Bull, and Narian Karthikeyan, India’s first F1 driver, are also competing in the football-themed formula.
As many British fans will well know Anthony Davidson now does a very good job in the role of racing expert on BBC radio’s F1 coverage. And, as regular listeners to the Friday practice sessions will have heard David Croft announce, Anthony picked up a win in his first outing for Peugeot in a 12 hour endurance race. His teammates at the French team? None other than ex-F1 men Marc Gene and Alex Wurz.
The German touring car series DTM has long been home to retired F1 folk, with several having competed there in the past few years. Currently peddling DTM machinery are former F1 race winners Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, whilst McLaren and Force India’s test drivers race there too in the form of Gary Paffett and Paul di Resta respectively. Paffett- who spoke to Badger recently- won the season opener this weekend past.
Kazuki Nakajima was involved in the fun-but-flawed Stefan GP project. No word on what he’s been up to since, though he’s probably still involved with old his old pals Toyota in some capacity. Romain Grosjean is racing GT cars this year, and probably enjoying the escape from the spotlight after his nightmare stint with Renault last season. He took a win on his debut weekend in the GT World Championship, a good start to the rebuilding of his reputation those 7 races with the French team have made necessary. He’s joined by a few other ex-F1 drivers: Mika Salo, Ricardo Zonta, Tomas Enge, Enrique Bernoldi and Karl Wendlinger. Star studded or what?
Some recent F1 leavers haven’t strayed too far from the paddock. Giancarlo Fisichella is still on the Ferrari payroll, fulfilling the role of third driver at the Scuderia whilst also indulging in a spot of G.T racing. Naturally he’s driving a Ferrari, and his teammate is another ex-Ferrari F1 man, Jean Alesi. Then there’s Nick Heidfled, whose currently third driver at Mercedes. A shame this as Nick still has much to offer in a race seat, but there are rumblings that he got the role on the understanding that of Michael Schumacher’s comeback went belly up it would be he who took the seven-times champ’s place. Surely not?
So there is life after F1 for drivers not ready to hang up their helmet. The world of motorsport is littered with former F1 drivers, many of whom are finally enjoying some success after years of struggling at the pinnacle of the sport. Still, we reckon most of them would swap it all for one more chance in Formula One. After all, F1 is what it’s all about.
Got any other ‘where are they now’ stories of ex-F1 folk? Join in and let Badger know who’s where these days.