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Post-F1 Paths - The comeback // Charting options available to drivers for life after Formula One

Published by Christine

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Hello, welcome to Sidepodcast, this is a brand new mini series called Post-F1 Paths, I bet you can’t guess what it’s about! I’m your host, Christine, and I’ll be guiding you through seven short shows taking a look at what drivers choose to do once they’ve decided, or it is decided for them, that their time in F1 is over. This first episode is based on something we’ve seen happen a lot in 2017. What to do when you retire from F1? Come straight back, of course!

Retiring from Formula One isn’t an easy decision. There are so many elements that go into making a decision of this nature: how long a driver has been in the sport, how well they are currently doing, and what their chances are of doing well in the future, whether they have achieved what they set out to do, whether any team is after their services, and, of course, whether they want to get on with whatever it is they do next.

Sometimes, a driver doesn’t get to make the decision for themselves. In fact, that happens more often than a driver having a long and happy career and deciding when the time is right that they want to hang up their F1 helmet and move on to something else. It’s usually the case that a driver ends up just being squeezed out of the sport. They haven’t impressed enough to earn a contract at a top team, and their current employer is looking for the next generation already. Bye bye F1 driver.

Occasionally, though, a driver does make the decision on their own terms. At the end of the 2016 season, it looked like we had three drivers doing just that. Felipe Massa was ready to retire after a long career in the sport, not quite reaching his championship potential, but becoming a much-loved figure in the paddock nonetheless. Jenson Button seemed more keen to hot-foot it out of the car and get on with the next stage of his career, having achieved one championship and then spending the rest of the time pootling around in an underperforming McLaren. And Nico Rosberg, after fighting tooth and nail to take the title that season, surprised pretty much everyone with his decision to quit the sport.

Of those three, only one of the retirements truly stuck. Rosberg’s decision freed up a space at Mercedes which was filled by Bottas, which freed up a space at Williams, which was filled by Massa. And fed up with pootling around in his own under-performing McLaren meant Fernando Alonso made the decision to try his hand at IndyCar, which forced Jenson Button back behind the wheel one more time. Much like their respective retirements from F1, Massa and Button’s reactions to returning were completely different as well.

Massa was keen to come back, admitting he hadn’t really wanted to leave in the first place. It can be a wrench, quitting a sport you have not only spent decades racing in but also spent the early part of your life fully focused on getting to. You’ve made friends, got routines, earned your stripes and generally been fully indoctrinated into the F1 way of life. For twenty or so weekends a year, you drive as fast as you possibly can and spend the rest of the time working out how to go faster. To go from that to sitting around at home in your pyjamas binge-watching TV must be a baffling experience.

Button, though, put on a good show about coming back but could barely hide the fact that he was already moving on. F1 had been good to him, but the final few years of his time in the sport robbed him of his passion for it. Taking a time out when he did was a good decision, and coming back wasn’t part of the plan. Focused instead on outside activities, it was surely only his reserve driver status in the contract that spurred him back in to the McLaren.

Sometimes a comeback takes a little longer to occur. Michael Schumacher retired and returned a few years later. Kimi Räikkönen thought rallying had more appeal than the more restricted F1, but he also returned after a stint out of the sport. Occasionally a driver realises they’re not quite ready for the big time and take a step down before returning to the pinnacle of motorsport. Nico Hülkenberg made his debut at Williams for one season before ducking out to be Force India’s test driver for a year, and earning his spot in the car full time. Romain Grosjean had a brief stint at Renault in 2009 but then moved back to GP2 to earn his stripes again before returning to F1 in 2012.

Meanwhile, Rosberg has managed to make his retirement stick but spends his weekends at home watching the sport instead. It’s clearly really hard to let F1 go.

That’s all for this first episode of Post-F1 Paths. The drivers discussed within found it hard to cut the ties to their preferred motorsport series, but others that we will discuss in the shows to follow did go on to other adventures. What do you think we might see over the next few episodes? Let me know at sidepodcast.com/contact, and join me tomorrow to find out!

Post-F1 Paths - The comeback

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