The return of a former World champion is not a new phenomenon in Formula One. Previously a number of past-greats have tried with differing levels of success. Here are some of the most notable returnees:
After winning the 1975 and ’77 titles for Ferrari, the Austrian had an inharmonious break down in relations with the Scuderia over its decision to sign Giles Villeneuve and quickly departed for Bernie Ecclestone s Brabham team. However after two uncompetitive seasons with the team, Lauda infamously retired from Formula One during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix and returned to his homeland to operate his airline.
By 1983 Lauda had returned to the sport in search of funds for his aviation business. After landing a competitive drive with Marlboro McLaren Lauda proved his doubters wrong by winning in only his third race back. In 1984 the Austrian enjoyed a season long battle with team-mate, Alain Prost, and clinched his third World championship by the smallest of margins – half a point – from the talented Frenchman.
Having won five times on his way to the 1984 title, Lauda struggled the following year. With thirteen retirements from sixteen races and only one race win at Zandvoort in the Netherlands he retired at the end of the season.
The determined Australian was a loyal servant of Williams from its inception as a full-constructor in 1978 until 1981. Jones won his only World title in 1980 during a stormy year which saw the FISA and the FOCA battle over the future of the sport. By the end of the 1981 season he surprisingly decided to retire from the sport – winning the final race of the year in Las Vegas.
Despite a one-off drive for Arrows in 1983, Jones could not be fully coaxed out of retirement until late 1985 when he agreed lead the newly-formed Team Haas. Despite much promise the operation was a disaster and Jones failed to make any significant headway. After contesting an appalling 1986- dogged by retirements and only one points finish- the Australian decided to hang up his helmet for good.
Statistically the best driver of the 1980s, the Frenchman found himself without a drive for the 1992 season after being fired by Ferrari for criticising its efforts. As a result, Prost decided to take a sabbatical with the hope of landing a competitive drive for 1993. However the Frenchman did experience some Formula One action during his year off, undertaking a number of tests with the Ligier team to apparently gain knowledge of the Renault engine.
Subsequently a possible link-up with Ligier did not result from these tests. Instead Prost signed for the Renault-works team, Williams, and led the Grove-squad to seven victories and his fourth and final world title.
Following the announcement that Alain Prost would race for Williams in 1993, the Briton left Formula One at the end of his championship-winning season for the IndyCar series. After taking pole and winning his first race, the Brit soon became accustomed to the American open-wheel series and won the title in his rookie year.
Mansell returned to Formula One in light of tragedy after the death of Ayrton Senna in May 1994. Thanks to heavy brokering from Bernie Ecclestone, he rejoined the Williams team for the French Grand Prix and the final three races of the season. Two of the his most notable drives that season came in Japan, after a fantastic race-long duel with Jean Alesi s Ferrari and in Adelaide, where he took pole and claimed victory after Schumacher and Hill eliminated each other.
Mansell attempted to make a full time return to the sport with McLaren. However his bid suffered problems right from the start. First Mansell had to miss the first two races of the season after failing to fit into the MP4-10. Then, once he finally made his debut in Imola he was outpaced by team-mate Mika Hakkinen. Another unsuccessful outing in Spain led to Mansell leaving the team – complaining of the car s ill-handling- and retiring from the sport for good.
The son of the legendary Ferrari driver realised his dream by clinching the 1997 drivers title for Williams. However the Canadian failed to capture any further glory following his unsuccessful switch to BAR and was duly removed from his duties after being outscored by Jenson Button over the course of the 2003 season.
With no contract Villeneuve was forced to take a sabbatical. However after Jarno Trulli departed the Renault team on bad terms, the Canadian was offered a three-race stint with the team. Vowing to help Renault clinch second place in the constructors’ championship from his previous employer, Villeneuve failed to score in any of his races and was outclassed by Fernando Alonso. Ultimately Villeneuve blamed a lack of testing for his poor showing and signed a two-year deal with Sauber.
Despite matching Felipe Massa for the best part of 2005, the following year saw the Swiss team taken over by BMW – placing Villeneuve s seat in jeopardy. Although BMW did allow him to start the 2006 season, Villeneuve s poor form meant that he was replaced by test driver Robert Kubica after the German Grand Prix.