In the first of a series of F1 ‘Top Fives’, we take a glance over some of the men who have succeeded in careers outside of motorsport.
Over the years, hundreds of drivers have come and gone from the Formula One paddock. Many of them are mere footnotes in the history of the sport, others drive on into the fast lane of World Champion – yet several have forged highly successful careers outside of motorsport. Here we take a look at five of the most notable, memorable and downright strange…
Many people thought Niki Lauda was a spent force after his horrifying fiery accident at the Nurburgring in 1976 that so nearly claimed his life, but the irrepressible Austrian came back to add the 1977 and 1984 crowns to the 1974 title he had already claimed. Eventually calling time on his career at the end of the 1985 season, Lauda focused his efforts on his business ventures, including his pet airline project, Lauda Air.
The airline enjoyed sustained growth with Lauda at the helm, coming to serve destinations such as Australia, Malaysia and the United States and carrying passengers to 56 destinations in eight different countries. The tragic crash of an aircraft in 1991 claimed the lives of 223 passengers and crew which severely harmed the airline’s image, and after a period of contraction a controlling stake was bought by Austrian Airlines in early 2000. Niki still takes an active role in managing his venture and plans to expand his activities once again in the coming summer holiday season on top of his commitments as an F1 pundit for German broadcaster RTL.
He may have enjoyed a less than illustrious Formula One career, but Italian Alex Zanardi was a favourite character of many in the pitlane. After a final, fruitless stab at F1 in 1999, the Italian was racing in the American Champ car series when a truly brutal accident necessitated the amputation of his legs in 2001. Only minutes from death, and laying in a coma for a great many weeks, he rose from his deathbed to compete in several World Touring Car Championship races. Zanardi later became a hand-bike fanatic, and the likeable Italian has enjoyed sustained success in this sporting category since 2009, winning a gold medal in the London 2012 Paralympic games representing his country.
Jody Scheckter was South Africa’s first and only world champion. So far at least.
Upon leaving F1 Scheckter turned his hand to a variety of weird and wonderful business plans, and by way of firearms simulators (built for law-enforcement agencies in the United States) he has ended up nestled in the Hampshire hills running his own organic farm.
And very well he seems to be doing too. He has featured in more documentaries as an ‘organic health expert’ than ‘1979 Formula One World Champion’, even appearing in the strangely sepia Sunday evening world of Countryfile to voice his support for healthy foods. The former Ferrari driver has also devoted a significant amount of time to producing ‘biodynamic sparkling wine’. There must be a market for it somewhere…
Button may not have finished with F1 just yet, but the indications are that the 2009 World Champion has a sparkling career ahead of him in Triathlon circles when he decides to hang up his helmet.
The Brit took up the sport during his barren years at Honda to distract himself from his frustrations on the track, and since then it has almost equalled F1 in terms of Button’s favourite sport. He even runs his own Jenson Button trust and has taken to holding an annual triathlon event for experts and newcomers alike, although he suffered the embarrassment of retiring from his own event this year because his girlfriend’s wetsuit was too tight for him. (Forget explaining why…how a man Button’s size managed to squeeze into a size 0 wetsuit is the really mind-boggling part of the story). So maybe one day, a certain Mr Button could be competing for Team GB at the Olympic Games? Perhaps even in Rio if he gets tired of F1 in the near future.
The explosive Ulsterman who nearly snatched the 1999 world title from Mika Hakkinen has kept himself nicely occupied since leaving the sport at the end of 2002…even if it has included being arrested. Twice as it happens. For the same crime. After years of ferocious Formula One competition Eddie obviously deemed himself capable enough to do without insurance and a licence when it came to riding a scooter at 30mph…through Hyde Park.
Aside from his flashy playboy lifestyle and disparaging remarks about current drivers in F1, Irvine has built a business empire that incorporates a youth sports scheme in his native Northern Ireland, dabbled in film-making, launched his own television programme on Sky One and even sued a radio station that he ended up working for eight years later.
Still, with a personal fortune of over £160 million you can afford to do whatever you please I guess.