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Driver Comebacks: Do They Ever Work?

Adam Flinn@@F1AdamCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2010

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 01:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Mercedes GP gestures to photographers during Formula 1 testing at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit on February 1, 2010 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

2010 seems to be the year of old drivers returning. Michael Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa, and possibly Jacques Villeneuve will all return to the sport this season. Co- incidentally, all three made their last racing appearances in 2006, but how successful will they be after several years out of Formula One?

There have been many other drivers who have returned to F1 with mixed levels of success throughout the history of the sport. Therefore, it is worth looking to see how they coped with coming back to get an idea of how the drivers in 2010 will do.

Luca Badoer

Last F1 Race: 1999. Returned: 2009

Poor old Badoer. He finally achieved his dream of driving a Ferrari 10 years after his last grand prix, and it happened to be the worst one since 1993. In-season testing had also been banned, so there was no chance that this was ever going to be a success.

After qualifying and finishing at the back in Valencia and Belgium, he was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella, who in fairness to Luca wasn't much better. Those two races means that Badoer has competed in 50 races without scoring a single point—not really a record to be proud of.

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Alexander Wurz

Last F1 Race: 2000. Returned: 2005 (1 race), 2007 (season)

Wurz had a promising start to his career, but found himself without a drive in 2001. It wouldn't be until Juan Pablo Montoya's injury in early 2005 that Wurz would get another race. And it couldn't have gone much better, with a solid third place at San Marino after the B.A.R's were disqualified.

His next comeback would be in 2007, driving a full season for Williams. Despite another podium at Canada and two other points finishes, he was often out-paced by team-mate Nico Rosberg, and retired from the sport before the final race. Overall, his return to F1 wasn't bad, but it was nothing special.

Nigel Mansell

Last F1 Race: 1992. Returned: 1994/1995

After "retiring" from the sport in 1990 and in 1992, Mansell came back for a few races with Williams during the 1994 season. After a shaky start, Mansell's battle with Jean Alesi towards the end of the Japanese GP showed he could still race competitively. Pole position and the win in Australia capped a decent comeback.

Nigel was sure that Williams would keep him for 1995, but instead the team hired a young David Coulthard. Mansell instead went to McLaren for a disastrous two races, before finally calling it a day. He had been in Formula One since 1980, and there was still rumours of him driving a Jordan in 1996. It seemed like he was never going to leave.

Alain Prost

Last F1 Race: 1991. Returned: 1993

Ferrari weren't too pleased with Alain's performance in 1991, and he was sacked before the final race of the year. Prost had described the Ferrari as a 'truck', and the Italian team were a bit unhappy about this.

Prost had a year off in 1992, before moving to Williams in 1993. It was to be another year contesting his rivalry with Ayrton Senna, and Prost managed to claim the championship at the Portuguese GP. After this season, Prost retired from F1 for good. You couldn't ask for much more of a comeback than that.

Niki Lauda

Last F1 Race: 1979. Returned: 1982-85

Retiring from Formula One as a two-time world champion would suit most people, but Lauda came back a few years later for another stint in the sport. In probably what is the most successful comeback so far, along with Prost's, Niki managed to claim another championship in 1984.

As well as a title, there was eight race wins and 128 points during this four-year period with McLaren. Considering he was nearly burnt to death several years before, these are some quite impressive statistics.

Some of the others

There have been many other drivers that have made comebacks after long periods out of the sport. Jan Lammers, Tarso Marques, and Nicola Larini just to name a few have all returned after some years away: Lammers in fact having the longest gap between two races from 1982 to 1992.

Alain Prost and Niki Lauda showed that it is possible to be successful after a few years out of Formula 1, and Luca Badoer has shown it is possible to be useless. It should be interesting to see how Schumacher and de la Rosa do alongside their much younger team-mates. Should Stefan GP see the light of day, Villeneuve should get another crack at the sport as well.

And you never know, maybe some more old drivers will come along in 2011. Mika Hakkinen? Gerhard Berger? Yuji Ide? Who knows.

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