Famous five... British aces on a busman’s holiday

19th January 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

Recent news that Jenson Button has tested a full-blown Honda Civic Coupé rallycross beast in America has further fuelled speculation that the recently retired British Formula 1 ace will try his hand in a discipline in which his father competed successfully in the 1970s.

Button has made no secret of his desire to race in other arenas now that his 17-year F1 career has come to an end. The 37-year-old tried a Mini WRC machine at the spiritual home of rallycross, Lydden in Kent, in 2015 as part of a feature for the BBC and the outing whetted his appetite for more.

How cool would it be to see Button going up against the established FIA World Rallycross aces, including master showman and two-time champion Petter Solberg, in the part-asphalt-part-gravel, rough-and-tumble sprint series?

While we wait, fingers crossed, for that to happen, there’s time to recall other occasions when British F1 stars have needed to keep scratching that itch after leaving F1. Here are five memorable occasions when our home-grown heroes have ventured into unknown territory. For some, it proved profitable, for others it’ll just bring back painful memories.

There are plenty of other good examples, of course – Derek Warwick in the 1990 RAC Rally in a Prodrive Subaru, Mike Hailwood returning to bikes after his F1 stint, Paul di Resta back in the DTM after a spell with Force India, Jackie Oliver and Derek Bell tackling historic racing, for example – so get in touch with your favourites.

Martin Brundle – FIA World Rally Championship

Just six weeks after finishing fifth for Jordan in his 158th and final Grand Prix, at Suzuka in Japan in 1996, Brundle was barrelling through the British forests in a pukka Group A Ford Escort RS Cosworth in the non-championship Network Q RAC Rally. Co-driven by veteran navigator Roger Freeman, Brundle crashed out in SS19 Sweet Lamb Hafren. Undeterred by his misdemeanour, the former World Sportscar Champion and Le Mans 24 Hour winner was back three years later in a works Toyota Corolla WRC in the ’99 Rally of Great Britain, co-driven by Swedish legend Arne Hertz. Running 20th overall after the opening run around Cheltenham race course, he held on until SS14 which was, you guessed it, Sweet Lamb. After chucking it off again, Brundle called it quits with rallying, although he continued his adrenaline rush with the Le Mans 24 Hours.

David Coulthard – Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

After his F1 career came to end with a blameless first-corner smash in Brazil at the end of 2008, on the same day Lewis Hamilton won the title for McLaren, DC was soon looking for things to do. The 13-time Grand Prix winner and 2001 World Championship runner-up, who’d racked up 246 starts since 1994, spent 2009 weighing up his options. A commentary career with the BBC beckoned but first he needed to get his fix on the track once more, so joined the Mercedes DTM roster for 2010. He finished 16th in the points that year, with one eighth-place finish – a tally he repeated in year two, still with the Mücke Motorsport-run Mercedes. Year three was slightly better: he took 15th in the final reckoning with two points finishes, including a fifth place at the Norisring. And that was that for DC the racing driver. His role as a TV commentator was in full swing by then and he’s still going strong with Channel 4.

Johnny Herbert – American Le Mans Series

He’d famously won Le Mans with Mazda in 1991, but Herbert was a dedicated Grand Prix driver at that juncture so endurance racing would have to wait. After bowing out of F1 with Jaguar at the end of 2000, the long-distance lure returned and he stepped into a Champion Racing Audi R8 alongside fellow Brit and Jaguar Le Mans winner Andy Wallace for an assault on the American Le Mans Series. In that first season, the duo scored three podium finishes – at Portland, Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta. Herbert also returned to Le Mans, qualifying third but retiring with engine failure. Runner-up at La Sarthe in 2002, 2003 and ’04 was as close as Herbert would get to a second win, but he kept on plugging away, finally calling it a day on international sportscar racing with ninth place for Aston Martin at Le Mans in 2007.

Nigel Mansell – CART PPG Champ Car World Series

A high-profile contract discombobulation with Williams over his retainer for 1993 forced World Champion Nigel Mansell to quit F1 and head Stateside to partner Mario Andretti in the crack Newman Haas squad. Despite a new F1 deal being handed to Mansell during the ’92 Italian GP weekend, the Briton had made up his mind. Something else not many expected was for ‘Our Nige’ to rock up at the first round on Australia’s Gold Coast and stick the Lola T93/06 on pole position at Surfers Paradise, then romp to a debut victory the following day. Six more poles and four more wins – all on ovals, at Milwaukee, Michigan, New Hampshire and Nazareth – gave Mansell the title at the first time of asking. And he came close to a debut Indianapolis 500 victory, too. A second season in the US was not as successful, just two second-place finishes his best return. Following the death of Ayrton Senna that Spring, Mansell found himself back in the Williams and he’d win his final outing for Frank’s team on the streets of Adelaide at the end of the year.


Stirling Moss – British Saloon Car Championship

In just 14 years between 1948 and 1962, our greatest all-rounder had raced hundreds of cars, winning in most of them. When his frontline career – and almost his life – was cut short right here at Goodwood on Easter Monday in 1962, the motorsport world wondered ‘what next?’ Returning to the cockpit for a test, once back to physical fitness, proved to Moss that he no longer possessed the innate capacity to perform on the limit. The intuition, he reasoned, was no longer there. But that didn’t stop the maestro from having a go many years later. Wooed out of retirement for 1980, he agreed to race an Audi 80 in the British Saloon Car Championship. And that’s probably where the great man would like us to leave it, for it was not a success, despite the huge publicity it generated. The car, run by Richard Lloyd’s GTI Engineering squad, was plagued by engine woes and Moss had trouble racing on slick tyres for the first time. He hung on for another year, although the cars were run by Tom Walkinshaw in 1981 and Moss had a young Martin Brundle as a team-mate. Moss gave it his best shot whenever he could, famously charging through the field at a wet Brands Hatch on one occasion, but nearly 40 years on he’d rather file the whole episode under ‘forget’.

  • Jenson Button

  • Famous five...

  • Nigel Mansell

  • Stirling Moss

  • David Coulthard

  • Johnny Herbert

  • Martin Brundle

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