Famous Five... Formula 1 driver comebacks

03rd August 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

A month after his first appearance at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard in a 2012 Renault F1 car, Robert Kubica is this week back in a contemporary Grand Prix machine, testing with Renault.


The Pole is driving the French squad’s R.S.17 at the Hungaroring with a view to returning to a race seat in 2018 – more than six years after his last race.

And wouldn’t it be a brilliant story if one of the sport’s most gifted-yet-unfulfilled talents got a second chance?

Kubica was horribly injured in an Italian rally accident in February 2011, ahead of winter F1 testing, so his 76-race top-flight career, that included victory in Canada for BMW-Sauber in 2008, 11 other podium finishes and a solitary pole position, came to an abrupt end.

Now, though, with numerous operations to repair his partially severed arm successfully completed, Kubica is ready to prove that F1 is unfinished business.

Of course, he’s not the first race winner to have had time away from the sport, for whatever reason. Here are five other top names who made a comeback to F1, some more successful than others.  

Niki Lauda

The Austrian famously survived a fiery crash at the Nürburgring in 1976 to win a second World title for Ferrari in ’77, which warrants inclusion here by itself. He joined Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team for 1978, winning twice, but in year two he became disillusioned with the sport thanks to a combination of woeful reliability with the BT48, a fast teammate in Nelson Piquet and his burgeoning airline business. On the morning of the Canadian Grand Prix that September he walked away. Little did we know that two years later, Ron Dennis, recently installed as McLaren boss, persuaded Lauda, whom he’d run in the BMW M1 Procar series, to come out of retirement for 1982. It was a shrewd move by both men: over the next four seasons, Lauda won eight more races and lifted a third title, finally calling it a day at the end of 1985.

Nigel Mansell

‘Our Nige’ had issued a retirement threat before – after his Ferrari failed during the 1990 British GP. But he was back at Williams for 1991 and finally secured the crown for his beloved team in Hungary in ’92. At Monza, just two races later, with contract negotiations over the details of ’93 having broken down, Mansell announced his move to America and a crack at the IndyCar series with Newman/Haas. Five wins and a rookie title vindicated his move and he committed to another Stateside season. However, come July he’d be back in F1 with, yup, Williams, juggling trips across the Atlantic. Following the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola, Mansell was recalled to share the second car with rookie David Coulthard, making his return in France – and almost snatching pole from team leader Damon Hill. He tackled three more races, taking his 31st and final career win in Adelaide at the end of the year. The less said about his two-race tenure at McLaren in 1995, the better.     

Alain Prost

Sacked by Ferrari before the final race of 1991 for labelling the Scuderia’s 643 “a truck”, Alain Prost spent the 1992 season tending to his garden. The wily Frenchman, already a three-time champion with McLaren, kept a watching brief over Mansell’s plight at Williams. He would’ve probably done anything to get his hands on any successor to FW14B, but probably not as team-mate to the Englishman – if their strained relationship at Ferrari in 1990 was any kind of barometer. When Mansell decided he’d be racing in America for ’93, Prost and Williams pounced, doubtless helped by French giants Renault and Elf. Together, as history has recorded, they won seven races, with Prost securing his fourth title. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Kimi Raikkonen

The enigmatic Finn’s three-year romance with Ferrari had fizzled out. He won the title – just – in year one, but was vanquished in 2008 by Felipe Massa. Raikkonen struggled on in 2009, but by then rallying was very much on his radar. As a Finn, he couldn’t help himself but try the legendary Rally Finland, or 1000 Lakes in old money. He crashed out in that 2009 event aboard a Fiat Grande Punto Abarth (on-brand for Ferrari, of course) but announced that the WRC would be his immediate future. Armed with a World Rally-spec Citroen for 2010 and 2011, he was quick but often chaotic, taking a best result of fifth in Turkey in year one. Rumours of an F1 return for 2012 soon circulated and, sure enough, ‘The Iceman’ was back in a single-seater for Australia, this time with Lotus, which had picked up the Renault reins. He took his first win for three years in Abu Dhabi at the end of the year, won the season-opening Australian GP in 2013 and secured seven other podium finishes that year. For 2014 Ferrari came knocking once more and it looks increasingly likely he’ll still be there in 2018.

Michael Schumacher

With all records smashed, Formula 1’s most successful driver called it a day, aged 37, at the end of 2006 to make way for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Schumacher maintained his ties with Maranello, as an ambassador, and even indulged in a bit of German Superbike racing to keep his eye in. Speculation about whether he’d return to F1 was never far away and after three years away, he made a sensational comeback, by then into his forties, with Mercedes. The German giant had taken over the World Championship-winning Brawn team and he was recruited, along with Nico Rosberg, for a Silver Arrows super team. There were to be no more wins during his three-year stint (Lewis Hamilton would replace him for 2013), but he did take one final podium finish – his 155th in F1 – in the European GP at Valencia in 2012.

Photography courtesy of LAT Images 

  • Famous Five...

  • robert kubica

  • nigel mansell

  • Alain Prost

  • niki lauda

  • michael schumacher

  • kimi raikkonen

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