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Fernando Alonso

Alonso and other drivers who left F1 and came back

Fernando Alonso will make a sensational comeback to Formula 1 in 2021 after two years away from the sport. Can he follow in the footsteps of these drivers who also returned to F1 after previously walking away?

Fernando Alonso Alpine
To news overview © Alpine F1 Media

Fernando Alonso walked away from Formula 1 at the end of 2018, having failed to achieve his dream of winning a third world championship. But in 2020, the Spaniard announced that he would return to the F1 grid in 2021 as part of Renault's rebranded Alpine team.

The news obviously made headlines; the prospect of a double world champion returning to the sport is certainly an exciting one. Alonso isn't the first driver to make a comeback after previously leaving Formula 1 though. How will his return compare to these drivers who all came back to the grid following a hiatus?

Michael Schumacher

Perhaps one of the most anticipated comebacks ever occured when Michael Schumacher - the legendary seven-times world champion - decided to return to Formula 1 in 2010. The German had previously ended his illustrious F1 career in 2006, shortly after a period of dominance with Ferrari which saw him crowned World Champion for five consecutive years between 2000 and 2004. Who put an end to his reign? Alonso, as it happens.

The then 41-year-old Schumacher opted to make his comeback with the new Mercedes team, where he was reunited with his former Ferrari colleague Ross Brawn. But sadly the German never managed to reach the levels of his previous success. In his three years with Mercedes, Schumacher was often outpaced by teammate Nico Rosberg and only stood on the podium once.

At the end of 2012, Schumacher retired for a second time. He was replaced at Mercedes by Lewis Hamilton - and the rest is history.

			© Renault Sport
	© Renault Sport

Alain Prost

Not all former world champions fail to match their previous success when returning to Formula 1. Alain Prost already had three world titles under his belt when his relationship with Ferrari soured towards the end of 1991, leading to his contract being terminated. The Frenchman spent the following season on the sidelines before making a comeback with Williams in 1993.

Prost had lost none of his talent after a year out, and became World Champion for a fourth time in the 1993 season. But at the end of the year, he decided to retire from the sport. Before leaving, Prost and his long-time rival Ayrton Senna finally healed their rift; tragically Senna lost his life at Imola in the following year.

			© Alfa Romeo
	© Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen

Despite having a contract to remain with Ferrari for 2010 after three years with the team, Kimi Raikkonen parted ways with the Italian outfit at the end of 2009. He was replaced by Fernando Alonso. Rumors abounded that Raikkonen would return to McLaren, but ultimately he decided to quit F1 and try something completely different - rallying.

The Iceman spent two years pursuing these other interests before making a Formula 1 comeback with the Lotus team in 2012. This move proved to be an inspired one; Raikkonen impressed upon his return and ended his first year back on the grid by claiming third place in the drivers' championship standings. His successful comeback led to Ferrari becoming interested in having the Finn back, and so he once again signed for the Scuderia in 2014.

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Niki Lauda

F1 comebacks don't come any greater than Niki Lauda's. The Austrian memorably returned to the grid at the Italian Grand Prix in 1976, a mere six weeks after he narrowly escaped a terrifying accident at the Nurburgring. Lauda's car had gone up in flames when he crashed heavily at the German circuit. He had suffered burns and flame inhalation, and the situation looked so dire that he was given the last rites.

But Lauda would not give up as he made his recovery, and when Formula 1 headed to Monza he was once again back in the Ferrari, despite his facial burns still being raw and painful. Incredibly the Austrian finished his first race back in fourth place, and remained in the title battle until he decided to withdraw from the wet Japanese Grand Prix, meaning rival James Hunt beat him to the world championship victory by just one point.

Lauda's stunning comeback is one of the reasons why the 1976 F1 season remains one of the most talked-about in the sport's history.

			© Williams
	© Williams

Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica is a man who knows about returning to Formula 1 after injury, but his comeback was much longer in the making than Lauda's. The Pole - who debuted in F1 in 2006 - had shown his talent on numerous occasions when he entered the sport, and earned his first ever victory at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix. After leaving BMW for Renault in 2010, Kubica continued to impress and was set to remain with the team in 2011.

However, during the pre-season, Kubica suffered a huge accident whilst competing in a rally and was left with a partially severed arm and multiple fractures. It took one hour to remove Kubica from the car, and the first operation he underwent took seven hours. He has had at least 17 surgeries since.

Whilst he suffered injuries to much of the right side of his body, it was the Pole's arm that was most severely affected. Incredibly, he was back in a rally car just 18 months later, but at the time he did not have enough movement in his wrist to be able to drive an F1 car again. By 2016, though, simulator work showed that he had made enough progress for a return to Formula 1 to become a possibility again.

And so in 2019, Kubica made his long-awaited return to the sport with the Williams team. It was a brief comeback to the grid, with the former race winner leaving the British outfit after one season, but he remains involved with F1, having since taken the position of reserve and test driver at Alfa Romeo.

Nigel Mansell

Not all comebacks are bathed in glory. Nigel Mansell left Formula 1 at the end of 1992 after winning the world championship, and went on to compete in IndyCar in 1993. The Briton made an unexpected return to F1 in 1994, when he drove four races for Williams following the tragic death of their driver Ayrton Senna.

Initially things didn't go well for Mansell, with his first two appearances resulting in DNFs. However, in his final run for Williams at the Australian Grand Prix, the former champion took pole position before winning the race.

Following this, Mansell signed for McLaren in 1995. But the car proved challenging, and after just two unsuccessful races, the Briton walked away from F1 for good.


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