F1’s 5 Longest Comebacks

Jan Lammers, Luca Badoer and Robert Kubica all feature on the list of drivers who took the longest breaks from Formula 1. We take a look at their stories.

1. Jan Lammers – 10 years, 3 months, 22 days

Jan Lammers holds the record for the longest gap between two Formula 1 Grand Prix starts, with 168 races passing between his 1982 Dutch Grand Prix appearance and his return at the 1992 Japanese Grand Prix. While the Dutch Grand Prix was his last start in his first stint in the sport, Lammers also failed to qualify for the next two rounds of the 1982 season, at Brands Hatch and Paul Ricard. The Dutch driver’s season was nothing short of a disaster, with his retirement at his home event being the only time he qualified for a Grand Prix from his six appearances that year. He was replaced by Tommy Byrne for the remaining five races at the Theodore Racing team.

After his F1 career ended, Lammers moved to the American CART series and had success in sports car racing, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988 with Jaguar. As Sauber stole Karl Wendlinger from the March F1 team for the last two races of the 1992 season, the team somehow decided Lammers was their man for the remaining Grands Prix, and he made his F1 comeback over 3,000 days after his last race appearance. While he retired from the Japanese round, he finished twelfth at the season-closing Australian Grand Prix.

Lammers was signed with the March team for 1993, but financial troubles saw the team pull out of the championship before the season began. Lammers left the sport without a point to his name.

2. Luca Badoer – 9 years, 9 months, 23 days

Following Felipe Massa’s accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Ferrari needed a replacement driver. Michael Schumacher announced his intention to fill the Brazilian’s seat, but a neck injury saw him cancel his plans. After that, reserve driver Marc Gene became the favourite to take the seat, but in the end it was long-time Ferrari tester Luca Badoer who returned to Formula 1 after a nine and a half season absence.

The move perplexed many. Aside from testing mileage and performing a showrun in a Ferrari at the Opening Ceremony for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Badoer hadn’t done much racing between his last F1 race for Minardi in 1999 and his return at the 2009 European Grand Prix.

Badoer couldn’t wait to get started on his comeback, so much so that he broke the pit-lane speed limit four times in his first practice session, earning a reprimand and fines in excess of £4000. Unfortunately, Badoer wasn’t as speedy on track. After finishing last of the classified runners in both the European and Belgian Grands Prix, Badoer was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella for the remainder of the year.

With 51 starts, the Italian remains the driver to have competed in the most Grands Prix without ever scoring a point.

3. Gene Force – 9 years

Whether or not Gene Force should be included in this list is a bone of contention. Firstly, he never competed in a Grand Prix, he participated in the Indianapolis 500 when it was a round of the F1 championship between 1950 and 1960. Furthermore, he did enter some races in the nine year gap, but failed to qualify for them. All of the races which he entered but failed to qualify for were also at the famous brickyard, in 1952, 1957, 1959. Force failed to finish on both of his starts at the Indianapolis 500.

4. Pete Lovely – 8 years, 10 months

Just like the three drivers listed above, Pete Lovely failed to score a point on any of his Formula 1 appearances. His first appearance came with Team Lotus at the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix – a race which he failed to qualify for. He returned for the 1960 US Grand Prix, finishing six laps down in eleventh place in a privately entered Cooper T45.

Nine years passed before Lovely returned to Formula 1, where he finished seventh at the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix in a privately-entered Lotus. He’d go on to compete in a further eight Grands Prix over the next two seasons, but would never finish as high as seventh again – his only other classified finish being a ninth place in the 1969 Mexican Grand Prix.

Alongside his racing exploits, the American driver also ran the Pete Lovely Volkswagen dealership in Fife, Washington for almost four decades.

5. Robert Kubica – 8 years, 4 months, 3 days

There was a gap of 158 races between Robert Kubica’s appearances at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. Kubica’s F1 career was curtailed by a near life-ending rally crash. He returned with Williams in 2019 – though the car’s lack of speed gave the Pole few chances to show the talent which he had displayed in the first part of his career. He left the sport again after a single season. Of the five drivers above, Kubica is the only one to have scored points in his comeback stint. He scored his only point of the 2019 season at the German Grand Prix.

Header image: ph-stop / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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