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Lauda, Schumacher, Raikkonen and more – The drivers Vettel could follow by coming out of retirement to make an F1 return

Staff Writer

Mike Seymour
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Sebastian Vettel has made the headlines in recent weeks after admitting that a Formula 1 comeback could be “appealing” for 2025. But how many other drivers have ended their retirements to return to the sport over the years and, more importantly, how did they fare? We’ve put together a shortlist…

Niki Lauda: Retired in 1979, returned in 1982

Niki Lauda initially called time on his F1 career at the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, where he told Brabham team boss Bernie Ecclestone that he no longer wanted to “drive in circles” – instead ploughing his energy into getting his own airline business off the ground.

READ MORE: 10 of the most remarkable injury comebacks in F1 history

But a few years on, McLaren and sponsor Marlboro dangled the carrot of an F1 return – and the chance to add to the two world titles he had achieved with Ferrari in the 1970s – in front of the Austrian, and it was an opportunity he grabbed.

After a brace of wins in 1982 and a couple more podiums in 1983, McLaren delivered the rapid, Porsche-powered MP4/2 for 1984, in which Lauda managed to pip team mate and rising star Alain Prost to the title by half a point.

Lauda continued for one more season, taking his 25th and final win at the 1985 Dutch Grand Prix, before embarking on a range of consultancy and managerial roles with Ferrari, Jaguar and most recently Mercedes, where he remained until his passing in 2019.

Top 10: Moments of Niki Lauda Brilliance

Alan Jones: Retired in 1981, returned in 1983

Alan Jones made his F1 debut in the mid-1970s and, some five years later, had reached the heights of title glory with Williams – becoming only the second Australian driver to achieve the feat after triple world champion Jack Brabham.

Having come close to doubling up in 1981, placing third in the standings behind team mate Carlos Reutemann and Brabham’s eventual title winner Nelson Piquet, ‘AJ’ decided that he’d had enough of travelling around the world and announced his retirement.

BEYOND THE GRID: 1980 World Champion Alan Jones on racing and winning for Williams

Victory in his then final race at Caesars Palace was a fine way to bow out, only for Jones to return to action little more than a year later with Arrows, despite breaking his leg in a horse-riding accident. However, when sponsorship money failed to materialise the two parties went their separate ways, having started just one Grand Prix together.

Some three years later, Jones returned full-time with Haas, but the regular podiums and wins from his initial stint in F1 were swapped for regular retirements – a P4 finish in Austria and P6 result in Italy the two highlights from an otherwise painful 1986. He retired again thereafter.

Top 10 F1 driver comebacks

Nigel Mansell: Retired in 1992, returned in 1994

Nigel Mansell realised his long-held ambition of becoming F1 world champion with Williams and their all-conquering FW14B in 1992, but no sooner had the Briton put his hands on that coveted prize, he departed the team and the sport as a whole.

Indeed, after falling out with team chiefs Frank Williams and Patrick Head over the terms of a new deal, and the impending arrival of Prost (with whom he’d experienced a tense relationship at Ferrari), Mansell opted for a move to America and the Indy Car World Series.

READ MORE: 5 bold F1 driver moves that paid off – and 5 that didn’t

A year later, and with the CART title also under his belt, Mansell returned to F1 and Williams following Ayrton Senna’s death, making several appearances through 1994 and scoring a pole position/victory double at the season finale in Adelaide – only for Williams to give David Coulthard a full-time drive alongside Damon Hill in 1995.

Mansell subsequently headed to another legendary British team in McLaren, but having struggled to fit into the narrow MP4/10B and missing the start of the season, he could not get to grips with the car when he eventually sat behind the wheel and permanently retired after two challenging race weekends.

Top 10: Moments of Nigel Mansell Brilliance

Michael Schumacher: Retired in 2006, returned in 2010

After Brawn GP’s sensational title double in 2009, it was all change at the Brackley team for 2010 as German automotive giant Mercedes bought the operation and signalled their full-time return to F1 competition – with a view to emulating their success from the 1950s.

Neither Jenson Button (heading to McLaren) nor Rubens Barrichello (moving to Williams) would represent the marque, though, with team bosses instead signing an all-German line-up of Nico Rosberg and returning world champion Michael Schumacher.

READ MORE: ‘Today was a little present to myself’ – The story of Michael Schumacher's 91st and final F1 win

Schumacher, who had racked up a pair of titles with Benetton in the 1990s and five with Ferrari in the noughties, was keen to add another chapter of success to his F1 story, but while a three-year spell with the Silver Arrows brought plenty of points, it yielded just one podium finish.

Schumacher was, however, credited with helping to lay the foundations for Mercedes’ success in the turbo-hybrid era that followed – the team winning eight constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ titles from 2014 to 2021.

10 Moments of Schumacher Brilliance - Monaco 2012

Kimi Raikkonen: Retired in 2009, returned in 2012

While it was not officially announced as a retirement at the time, Kimi Raikkonen stepped away from the F1 grid at the end of a challenging 2009 season with Ferrari, despite having a contract to race with the team – who signed Fernando Alonso in his place – through 2010.

Over the next couple of years, the Finn dabbled in his passion for mixed-surface competition with outings in the World Rally Championship and also sampled the world of NASCAR, but the F1 paddock remained interested in his services and he returned with Lotus for 2012.

WATCH: ‘I just did whatever made me happy’ – Take an animated trip through Kimi Raikkonen’s stellar career

A brilliant victory – and radio message – followed at that year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before he kicked off the 2013 campaign with a similarly impressive win in Australia. After bagging several more podiums, Raikkonen soon found himself heading back to the squad he had left in Ferrari.

While Raikkonen’s next spell at Maranello was not as successful as his first, which included a run to the title in 2007, he added plenty more trophies to his cabinet and took a very popular 21st and final victory at the 2018 United States Grand Prix, before embarking on a farewell stint with Alfa Romeo.

Greatest Comebacks: Kimi Raikkonen

Fernando Alonso: Retired in 2018, returned in 2021

Alonso came agonisingly close to winning the title with Ferrari after replacing Raikkonen but with the top prize remaining elusive across a five-year spell in red he made a return to McLaren for 2015, where matters went from bad to worse thanks to an ailing Honda power unit.

Alonso patiently waited for progress across three seasons powered by the Japanese manufacturer, and another when Renault stepped in as their replacement, but with no sign of the race and title-contending form he had been craving, the Spaniard walked away from F1.

READ MORE: From Hungary 2003 to Spain 2013 – Ranking Alonso’s best wins from 10 to 1

Like Raikkonen, Alonso tried a host of different categories in the years that followed, with highlights including a pair of victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the overall World Endurance Championship title, alongside outings in the IMSA SportsCar Championship, the Dakar Rally and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso was then tempted back to F1 by Alpine, or ‘Team Enstone’, where he won his pair of world titles in 2005 and 2006, with a move to Aston Martin and a move up the grid soon following as his quest for that third championship continues.

What's more the Spaniard has just signed on at Aston Martin through to 2026, with chapters of his F1 journey still to be written.

Top 10: Moments of Fernando Alonso Brilliance

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