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Six of the best... F1 drivers with hidden sporting talents

15 Jun 2015

Have you heard the one about the Spanish bobsleigh pilot who raced for Ferrari? What about the BMX world champion who stood on three Grand Prix podiums? Meet the F1 drivers whose sporting talents extend beyond the race track…

Jackie Stewart - superstar with a shotgun

The proud Scotsman wasn’t just a whiz behind the wheel of a racing car, he was also a natural with a shotgun in his hands - something he discovered aged 14 when his father rolled a turnip down a hill for him to shoot at. Having proved his worth on root vegetables, Stewart quickly turned his attention to competitive clay pigeon shooting, and over the next few years claimed several major titles. The future three-time world champion even stood on the brink of representing his country at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, only for a rare off day in the final qualifying tournament to scupper his hopes of challenging for gold. Stewart maintains that it was the biggest disappointment of his sporting life.

Alex Wurz - BMX bandit

It may be hard to imagine 6’1” Alex Wurz straddling a BMX bike, but as a (considerably shorter) 12-year-old the Austrian excelled on the diminutive two-wheelers, even claiming world championship glory in 1986. Though he’d ultimately swap pedal power for horsepower, Wurz - a three-time F1 podium finisher - credits BMX racing with preparing him physically for a career in motorsport.  “With any type of racing you can only win if you’re really fit,” he said. “I basically got my first Formula One contract [as a test driver for Benetton] because I was able to drive 80 laps for two days running when other young, promising drivers appeared to be exhausted after just ten or 20 laps…”

Alfonso de Portago - at home on ice, grass or water

Being competitive in one sport is enough for most people, but not for colourful Fifties racer Alfonso de Portago. By his untimely death in 1957 the Spanish playboy had not only established himself as a racing driver of some note - achieving one shared second-place finish across five world championship starts for Ferrari - he’d also been French amateur champion jockey on three occasions, twice competed in Britain’s famed Grand National horse race, and swam at an international level. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also established Spain’s first ever bobsleigh team, leading them to a surprise fourth-place finish at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Italy. One can only imagine what he might have tried his hand at next…

Alex Zanardi - Paralympic comeback king

Has there ever been a more inspirational tale than that of Alex Zanardi? The former Williams’ racer lost both his legs - and very nearly his life - in a horrific Indycar crash in 2001, but remarkably it proved no barrier to his sporting ambitions. Not content with returning to motor racing (which he did with the aid of hand controls in 2003), Zanardi took up handcycling and swiftly became one of the world’s best, winning marathons in Rome and New York amongst other titles. But the comeback king’s crowning glory came at the 2012 London Paralympics when he won two gold medals and one silver. Now in his late Forties, the irrepressible Italian has turned his attention to triathlons and last year competed at the Ironman World Championships, finishing the 226.3 kilometre (140.6 mile) course in just under ten hours.

Graham Hill - just as quick in a boat

Before turning his attention to motor racing, the debonair Brit got his sporting kicks from the rather more sedate sport of rowing, proving almost as handy with an oar in his hands as he was with a steering wheel. Between 1952 and 1954 Hill rowed in 20 finals with his beloved London Rowing Club, taking an impressive eight wins. What’s more, he usually rowed at stroke - the position at the stern of the boat reserved for the most competitive rower in the crew. “It really taught me a lot about myself,” the double world champion said of rowing in his 1968 autobiography. “I also think it is a great character-building sport...The self-discipline required for rowing and the 'never say die' attitude it bred obviously helped me through the difficult years that lay ahead…” Little wonder then that the moustachioed racer chose to base his iconic helmet design on his former rowing club’s colours.

Jenson Button - F1 Ironman

Not content with being one of the finest racing drivers on the planet, Jenson Button has now established himself as one of the world’s best amateur triathletes - not bad considering he only took up the sport a few years ago as a way to stay fit for his ‘real job’. Last August, while the majority of his peers were enjoying a well-earned summer break, the undisputed ‘fittest man in the paddock’ flew to the Philippines to swim, cycle and run 113 kilometres (70.3 miles) in a gruelling half Ironman event. He ended up finishing a remarkable 11th out of 1,675 competitors…

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