The departure of Michael Schumacher (for good this time) from Formula One has allowed many of his fans to breathe a sigh of relief, terminating what has been a career-defining and disappointing downturn in form from his glorious heyday. However, ‘Schumi’ really has nothing to worry about as far as image goes. Really. Just take a look at these…
5. Jacques Villeneuve
The 1997 World Champion was a picture of perfection during his first two seasons in Formula One, winning eleven races and regularly taking on and beating Michael Schumacher. But after 1998…nothing. Villeneuve initially turned his back on the sport at the end of 2003, only to return briefly with Renault at the close of the 2004 campaign before signing up for a full time seat with Sauber in 2005. A 4th place at the San Marino Grand Prix was good as it got before the Canadian was usurped from his drive halfway through 2006 by the up and coming Robert Kubica. How the mighty fall.
4. Narain Karthikeyan
The little Indian debuted in 2005 with the ailing Jordan team in its final year of competition thanks to prolific backing from the Indian car-giant TATA. A 4th place at the American GP was thanks to the fact only six cars competed and he ended the year in the back of an ambulance after a huge shunt at the Chinese Grand Prix. Another journeyman consigned to the history books.
But lo and behold, 2011 dawned and Karthikeyan was back, even if it was behind the wheel of the most disastrous car on the grid. And yes, there was the ever-present TATA backing lurking in the background once again. Sharing his seat with various other also-ran drivers, Karthikeyan has managed only to gain exposure by holding up or crashing into top-line drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. Surely he won’t be in a cockpit much longer?
3. Felipe Massa
Unfair to put Felipe in here?
The 2008 title runner-up was truly a great driver before the accident that fractured his skull at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, but since he returned in 2010 the Felipe Massa of old has been sadly absent. He has had good weekends, but not many, and the final, damning humiliation of being forced to hand over the lead of the 2010 German GP to Fernando Alonso seems to have extinguished any flame of moral fibre that remained in the likeable little Brazilian. A brief resurgence in the latter half of 2012 may go some way to restoring his reputation but this is certainly not the same man we saw before that spring clouted his helmet.
2. Nigel Mansell
The moustachioed 1992 brummie World Champion was a darling of the British crowd as he duelled with legends such as Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980’s, but he departed F1 in a whirlwind of controversy after his title winning season to cross the pond and beat the Americans at their own game of oval racing. Called up to Williams after the death of Senna in 1994, Mansell demanded ridiculously inflated pay packets for his services and rewarded the team for their financial outlay by retiring from almost every race he participated in. He did win in his final outing for the Didcot-based team in Adelaide, and decided a full-time comeback was in order for 1995.
Except it didn’t work out like that. Somehow Mansell managed to avoid taking a proper seat-fitting at Mclaren until the dying weeks of the winter break. No surprise then that he promptly became jammed in the cockpit and had to be removed by engineers. Boldly announcing he would sit out the first two races while Mclaren struggled to build a wider car, he gallantly refused to make any attempt to lose weight, inevitably making a totally underwhelming debut at San Marino two months later. He finished 10th after crashing into Eddie Irvine and duly hung up his helmet for the final time.
A true British hero; both flawed, brilliant…and slightly overweight.
Luca Badoer came agonisingly close to a podium finish for perennial F1 minnows Minardi at the rain-hit 1999 European Grand Prix, only to be halted by a mechanical failure.
Unfortunately, the Italian is more likely to be remembered in F1 circles for his agonisingly awful return with Ferrari in 2009.
After Felipe Massa was ruled out of the final few races of the 2009 season thanks to a fractured skull sustained in an accident, it seemed Ferrari were to give their loyal test driver a well-deserved chance to re-ignite what had been a barren career in the past. This was only because they couldn’t get Michael Schumacher in the car mind – but still it was a very emotional day for all involved when Badoer started his first grand prix in almost ten years at Valencia.
By the end of the day many were in tears at Ferrari; unfortunately not of the joyful kind. Badoer started dead last, and finished dead last, lapped by the winning Rubens Barrichello and even managing to crash into a stationary car at walking speed in the pitlane. If Ferrari expected things to get better in Spa two weeks later they were badly mistaken, Badoer once again looking in a (lonely) class of his own. The Italian was quietly shuffled out of the way after the race to make way for Giancarlo Fisichella, although he too failed to make any headway with the troublesome Ferrari F60 car.
Not long after, Badoer also lost his job as Ferrari test driver…