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Post-F1 Paths - The athlete // Drivers turn to other sports to show off their fitness

Published by Christine

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Hello one and all, welcome to Post-F1 Paths, a mini series brought to you by Sidepodcast. This is the fifth episode of seven short shows in which we are travelling through the opportunities available to drivers once they have decided to give up Formula One in favour of something else. We’ve covered a handful of sporting achievements that drivers can aim for after F1, but this time we’re talking about using their fitness for other athletic purposes.

Drivers opting to try their hand at athletics after a successful career in Formula One has never been more relevant than it is this year, with Jenson Button’s triathlete endeavours. The F1 champion was clearly ready for a break from the grind of travelling the world and racing fast cars, so for the 2017 season (barring a one-off Monaco return) he retired from the sport. Instead, Button has been focusing on becoming a triathlete champion.

Now, the athletic competition of running, cycling and swimming isn’t new to Button. He’s participated in many events over the past few years and even holds his own annual charity event open to any and all who want to participate. He’s gradually improved his own skills, and with the added high standards of fitness required to be an F1 driver these days, has never been in a better position to do well in his new career.

Unfortunately, Button was disqualified from his World Ironman efforts despite finishing third in his age category. The impressive performance was diminished when it emerged he had been speeding through a slow zone during the bike phase – something that was a gleeful moment for headline writers, but must have been a disappointment for Button. Still, with reserve driver duties out the way, he can get back to the running, swimming and biking that is now inspiring him.

And if inspiration is what you’re after, then we must look no further than Alex Zanardi. The Italian driver was more well known for his CART efforts in the US, but also participated in over 40 F1 races. A terrible crash saw Zanardi lose both his legs but the accident barely slowed him down. Zanardi was soon behind the wheel again in modified racing cars, but he also took up handcycling.

He started participating, and winning, handcycling marathons. He won a gold medal in the 2012 Paralympics, and followed it up in 2016 with two golds and one silver. He also completed the Ironman World Championship, coming 19th in his age group. Absolutely incredible.

Competing in the Olympics isn’t a new thing for racing drivers, either. One of Formula One’s very few female drivers started out as an Olympian. Divina Galica, who started three F1 races in the 1970s, came fresh from a stint as captain of the British Women’s Olympic Ski Team securing some solid finishes in both the winter Olympics and world championship events. After the Formula One career didn’t work out, Galica returned to the ice and snow, participating in the 1972 Winter Olympics as well.

The challenge of representing your country and competing for a tangible and well-recognised gold medal is understandably appealing to drivers but it’s not all about the Olympics. Other sports are just as fascinating but also come with health warnings. We all remember Mark Webber’s unfortunate cycling accident – sustained whilst participating in an off-season bike race for his foundation in Tasmania – that left him with a broken leg. The one thing that came out of this was a greater insight into the training and rehabilitation that drivers can undergo, as Webber was very open about his progress in healing the leg and training as best as possible to be ready for the upcoming 2009 F1 season.

Webber also, quite notably, cracked his shoulder in a second cycling accident that forced him to drive the final four races of the 2010 season in some discomfort. We know that Webber has bad luck, but it’s also more and more obvious why drivers should perhaps wait until after they’ve finished their racing career before they go all out on another athletic sport.

That’s all for this episode of Post-F1 Paths, thank you, as always, for listening. Do you know of any other drivers who have taken up another sport after their career, or do you think any more of the current batch might try? Let me know at sidepodcast.com/contact, and please do join me again tomorrow for the penultimate episode of Post-F1 Paths.

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