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Throughout the Formula 1 championship history, many drivers have returned to the competition after a period of inactivity, either by their own decision, because they were left without a seat for the following season, or even because of physical sequelae after an accident.
Coming back after retiring is risky, as it can go very well or be a massive failure, so it is not an easy decision. Some drivers retired and triumphed, while others returned with more pain than glory.
They say the second parts were never good, but let’s check today if this is true. So, here are some of the drivers who left Formula 1 and came back.
1. Michael Schumacher
With seven world championships, German Michael Schumacher is one of the most successful drivers in history, known primarily for his dominant period with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004. The “Kaiser” had a long sporting career that spanned three decades, in which he completed 18 full seasons, although not in a row.
After ten years at Ferrari, where he had achieved everything, the German retired at the end of 2006 at 37. However, the German returned four years later, in 2010, with Mercedes, which returned to the Formula 1 championship after more than five decades out of the category.
At 41 years old, Schumacher wanted to prove that he was still up to the best, leading the Silver Arrows, which were not particularly competitive after their return. Schumacher drove three seasons, achieving a fantastic third place in the 2012 European GP held in Valencia, although he could not take any victories.
That season, the German took the pole position at the Monaco GP, showing that he was still in top form, but a grid penalty dropped him to sixth. The German was beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg for all three seasons. At the end of 2012, the “Kaiser” retired for good.
2. Alain Prost
Along with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost is the only driver in history capable of retiring as world champion and repeating the feat on his return. His first stint lasted 12 seasons, in which he drove for Renault, McLaren, and Ferrari, winning three titles with the British team and four runner-up positions, losing the 1984 title by only half a point to his teammate Niki Lauda.
The Frenchman, nicknamed “The Professor” for his cold and calculating mind, forged some of the most famous rivalries in the category’s history, including the one he had with Ayrton Senna during his time at McLaren and Ferrari.
At the end of 1991, Prost was fired from Ferrari for publicly criticizing the car’s pace, which he compared to driving a truck. After a year out of the category, the Frenchman returned in 1993 with Williams, which had dominated the 1992 season with Nigel Mansell. In 1993, the British team continued its winning streak, and Prost won his fourth world title, taking seven victories and thirteen pole positions.
After this season, Prost retired definitively as a driver, and in 1997 he created his team, Prost GP.
3. Kimi Räikkönen
With 349 starts, Finland’s Kimi Räikkönen is the second driver in Formula 1 history with the longest career, behind only Spain’s Fernando Alonso. The “Iceman” debuted in 2001 with Sauber. After his good performances, he signed with McLaren in 2002, obtaining two runner-up finishes in the world championship due to the poor reliability of their cars.
In 2007, Räikkönen signed for Ferrari, winning the title in his first year. After two less competitive seasons, the Finn left Formula 1 to try his luck in rallying and Nascar, returning in 2012 with Lotus, winning two victories in 2 seasons.
In 2014 he returned to Ferrari again. Despite being beaten by his teammates, he showed great consistency and form, scoring podiums consistently, as well as a final victory at the 2018 US GP, a season in which he finished third in the championship.
After Ferrari, the “Iceman” returned to Sauber, now renamed Alfa Romeo, completing three seasons with an excellent performance in the middle of the grid, to retire definitively after 2021, going down in history as one of the best drivers and the last Ferrari champion to date.
4. Niki Lauda
The Austrian Niki Lauda debuted in Formula 1 in 1971, and in 1975, in his second season with Ferrari, he won his first title.
The Austrian is famous for his rivalry with James Hunt in 1976, a season in which he suffered severe burns after an accident in the German GP, but from which he recovered, returning to race just six weeks later. However, the Briton beat him in the championship.
However, in 1977 he won his second title, and at the end of 1979, he retired to focus on his airline company but returned in 1982 with McLaren. Lauda took two victories in his first year with the British team, and in 1984 he won his third title after beating teammate Alain Prost by half a point.
Lauda retired for good at the end of 1985 after 11 retirements in 14 races. The Austrian publicly admitted that he returned to Formula 1 for financial reasons, although he did better than expected.
5. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso made his Formula 1 debut in 2001 with the backmarker Minardi, and in 2002 he signed for Renault, with whom he won 2 consecutive world championships in 2005 and 2006, becoming the youngest driver in history to win the title to date. In 2007 he signed for McLaren, where his tense rivalry with Lewis Hamilton meant that he only raced for one year with the British team.
The Spaniard returned to Renault after two uncompetitive years, signed in 2010 for Ferrari, being runner-up in 2010, 2012, and 2013, proving that he was one of the best drivers in history, consistently outperforming his mediocre cars. Alonso returned to McLaren in 2015 to embark on the promising Honda project. Still, after three disappointing seasons, he retired from Formula 1 to try his luck in other categories, achieving the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with two wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among other races.
In 2021, the Spaniard announced his return to Formula 1 with Alpine (formerly Renault), achieving a podium finish at the Qatar GP more than five years after his last podium. Despite being 41 years old, Alonso continues to prove that he is at the height of the best, signing with Aston Martin for 2023.
6. Nigel Mansell
Nigel Mansell had a long career in Formula 1, although he did not have very competitive cars during most of it. However, he was always very popular among fans for his charisma on and off the track, being one of the most skilled and beloved drivers on the grid.
The Briton made his Formula 1 debut in 1980 with Lotus, achieving some podiums during the next few seasons. In 1985 he signed for Williams and lost the title in 1986 by just two points, being runner-up again in 1987 and then again in 1991, during his time at Ferrari, where the Tifosi began to call him “Il lione.”
In 1992, Mansell returned to Williams, scoring one of the most dominant seasons in history with the FW14B, taking nine wins in 16 races and finally becoming world champion after more than a decade in the category. At the end of the season, he retired, and in 1993 he raced in IndyCar, where he won the title in his debut season, being the first driver to do so.
In 1994, Mansell returned to Formula 1 with Williams, replacing David Coulthard in four races, and taking a victory in the season finale. In 1995 he signed for McLaren but only raced two races in an uncompetitive car before leaving for good.
7. Alan Jones
Alan Jones debuted in Formula 1 in 1975, achieving his first victory in 1977. In 1978 he signed for Williams, where he lived his best moments in the category despite having a discreet start, winning the title in 1980 after five victories and being third in the 1979 and 1981 championships.
The Australian retired for the first time after 1981, and in 1983 he made an appearance in the United States GP with Arrows, where he retired due to indisposition. In 1985 he returned to the category mid-season with Haas, completing the 1986 season, in which he only finished 4 of the 14 races that year.
8. Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel Fangio was the first driver to win a world championship after a period of inactivity. The Argentinean was one of the drivers of the first generation of Formula 1, racing from the first season of the championship in 1950. That first season he was runner-up behind Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, and in 1951 he won his first title.
The Argentinean could not compete in 1952 due to a terrible accident he suffered at Monza, which left him out of the circuits for the whole year. Despite this, Fangio returned to Formula 1 more vital than ever in 1953, runner-up in 1953 with Maserati.
After that, Fangio lived his golden moments in Formula 1, winning four championships with Maserati, Mercedes, and Ferrari and establishing himself as the best driver of the time and an icon for future generations.
The Argentinean was the driver with the most world championships until Michael Schumacher beat him in the 2000s, who reached seven titles. However, for many, Fangio is the best driver in history.
9. Mario Andretti
Mario Andretti’s racing career is unique. The Italian-American had intermittent appearances in Formula 1 from 1968 to 1974 with Lotus, STP, and Ferrari, achieving one podium and one victory.
In 1975 he joined the category full-time, and in 1977 he joined Lotus, which lived its last golden age thanks to the great innovation of the ground effect. In that first year with Lotus, Andretti was third after four wins and one podium. In 1978, the American dominated the season from start to finish, winning his only title in the category.
After that, Andretti never again had competitive cars in Formula 1 and retired after the 1981 season. In 1982 he returned to race the United States GP with Williams, and the last two races of the season with Ferrari, taking his previous podium in the category at the Italian GP.
10. Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve, son of the legendary Gilles, had a sporting career that went from better to worse. In his first season in 1996, the Canadian was runner-up in the world championship behind his teammate Damon Hill.
In his second year, in 1997, the Canadian took the lead of the Williams team to dominate the championship and win the title, scoring twice as many points as the runner-up. After that season, the Canadian scored occasional podium finishes but never again scored a victory.
In 1999 he joined the BAR team, with whom he drove until the 2003 season. After that, Villeneuve retired from Formula 1 with a relatively short racing career of 8 seasons after being left without a seat in the category.
However, in 2004 he replaced Jarno Trulli for the last three races of the season, and the Canadian completed one and a half more seasons with Sauber with discreet results after retiring definitively in mid-2006.
11. Robert Kubica
During the late 2000s, Poland’s Robert Kubica established himself as one of the future stars of the category, called to do great things, but an accident changed everything. Kubica made his Formula 1 debut with BMW Sauber for the second half of the 2006 season, and already in his third race, he scored a fantastic podium finish.
In 2008, his best season in Formula 1, he obtained five podiums and one victory in the Canadian Grand Prix, earning him fourth place in the championship. In 2010 he signed for Renault, the team with whom he was to continue in 2011, but an accident in a rally in Italy where he almost lost his right hand meant he had to retire from motorsport at the highest level.
That accident cut short his career, as Kubica confirmed several years later that he had signed a pre-contract for the 2012 season with Ferrari. The Pole returned to Formula 1 as a test driver for Williams in 2018; in 2019, he returned as an official driver after his severe accident.
Despite being consistently beaten by teammate George Russell, Kubica scored the team’s only point. In 2021 he returned to F1 with Alfa Romeo replacing Kimi Räikkönen after testing positive for COVID-19.
12. Kevin Magnussen
Kevin Magnussen’s story is about fighting and not giving up, despite the odds. The Dane debuted in Formula 1 with McLaren, obtaining an excellent second position in his first race, and thus becoming, after his father Jan, the second Dane to achieve a podium in Formula 1 and the second rookie, after Lewis Hamilton, in the 2007 Australian GP, to obtain a stage in his first race.
Despite this excellent result, in 2015, Magnussen was not renewed with the team after finishing below his teammate Jenson Button and remaining a test driver. In 2016, the Dane returned to the category with Renault before joining the Haas project in 2017, with whom he drove until 2020 alongside Romain Grosjean.
At Haas, he was very close to Grosjean regarding results, although they couldn’t do much with that car as it wasn’t very competitive. At the end of 2020, Haas decided to terminate their two drivers to sign two rookies, Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, leaving Magnussen without a seat again.
After a year out of the category, in 2022, the Dane was called by Haas to replace Nikita Mazepin, thus returning to the seat he previously held. In his return, Magnussen could not have done better. The Dane has outperformed his car all season, obtaining a fantastic fifth position in the first race and an incredible pole position in the Brazilian GP, always far ahead of Schumacher.
13. Esteban Ocon
Esteban Ocon is one of the most incredible young talents in recent years, but he has been a victim of the so-called “pay drivers” in Formula 1. The Frenchman made his Formula 1 debut in 2016 with backmarker Manor for the second half of the season and, after some good results, was signed by Force India for the 2017 season.
In Force India, he drove for two years alongside Sergio Perez, with whom he had a hard fight in which several clashes deteriorated their relationship, demonstrating that he could be fast with a car to match.
Despite his excellent performance, Force India decided not to renew him, and he was replaced in 2019 by Lance Stroll, son of Lawrence, the team’s new owner. Thus, Ocon was left without a seat for 2019.
However, in 2020, the Frenchman returned to the category, taking his first podium at the Shakir GP, and in 2021 he scored an incredible victory at the Hungarian GP, proving himself worthy of being in Formula 1.
14. Daniil Kvyat
After winning the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, Russian Daniil Kvyat moved up to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso. After a promising rookie season, the Russian was promoted to Red Bull in 2015 to replace Sebastian Vettel. In that season, he beat his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. However, in 2016 his performance dropped significantly, being relegated back to Toro Rosso.
After a discreet season and a half with Toro Rosso, the team fired him without a seat for 2018.
However, the energy drink’s “B-team” re-signed him for the 2019 season in the absence of strong candidates for that position. Two more seasons, in which he was able to score a podium finish at the 2019 German GP, and Kvyat retired from Formula 1 for good after underperforming.
15. Alex Albon
Along with Daniil Kvyat, Alex Albon is one of the “victims” of the Red Bull program. The Thai debuted in 2019 with Toro Rosso, and after a tremendous first half of the season, he was promoted to Red Bull after Pierre Gasly’s poor results.
Albon drove the rest of 2019 and the 2020 season with Red Bull, performing well below teammate Max Verstappen and scoring just two podiums. Because of this, Red Bull signed Sergio Perez for 2021, thus leaving Albon without a seat.
The poor results of Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly, and Alex Albon at Red Bull called into question Red Bull’s program by promoting such young and inexperienced drivers to the first team, which could be more detrimental than beneficial to their racing careers.
The Thai, still sponsored by Red Bull, has returned to Formula 1 with Williams in 2022, scoring in 3 races and achieving good results for the car he has, well ahead of teammate Nicholas Latifi, thus proving that he deserves a place in the category.
16. Nico Hülkenberg
Nico Hülkenberg is one of those drivers who deserve to be in Formula 1 but whose luck has never been with him. The German made his debut in 2010 with Williams, and that season he obtained a fantastic pole position in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite this, the German was left without a seat for 2011 but returned in 2012 with Force India.
With Force India, he drove until 2016, establishing himself in the midfield as one of the most skilled drivers on the grid. However, he could not score any podium finishes, despite coming close to doing so on several occasions.
After that, Hülkenberg drove three more seasons at Renault, where he did not do badly but was beaten by teammate Daniel Ricciardo in 2019 and left without a seat for 2020. The German competed in 2 races in 2020 with Racing Point and another 2 in 2022 after replacing Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, and Sebastian Vettel, respectively, for positive COVID-19.
However, after three seasons without being an official driver, Haas announced that Hülkenberg would return to Formula 1 with them for 2023 in search of his long-awaited podium finish.