F1 comebacks: they can go well – like the one we looked at yesterday – and they can go badly wrong.
Alan Jones isn’t the only F1 champion who’s comeback didn’t go quite according to plan – but few drivers made two attempts at coming back to the sport.
Here’s two ways Michael Schumacher will not want his F1 return to work out:
Having won the world championship for Williams in 1980, Jones fell out with team mate Carlos Reutemann spectacularly in 1981. Jones’s retirement at the end of the year, his seventh in F1, seemed a touch hasty at the time.
Pining for his native Australia, Jones returned home where he satisfied his passion for racing in low-level national competitions. But the desire to compete at the top remained.
Comeback 1: Arrows, 1983
In 1983 a change in the F1 regulations outlawed ground effect cars. Jones had been a staunch critic of the technology which saw cornering speeds soar and subjected drivers to fierce physical punishment in cars with rock-solid suspension.
He decided to make a return to F1, albeit rather late in the day. With top drives at the likes of Williams, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren all taken, Jones joined the Arrows team.
The plan was that Jones would drive regularly for the team who would use his profile as a former world champion to bring in a big-name sponsor. But they ran into trouble early on when Jones was thrown off a horse and broke his left leg. He had to have steel pins inserted to help the bone heal.
Despite that he remained determined to drive. Jones tested an Arrows A6 at Willow Springs in Los Angeles to make sure his leg had healed sufficiently. He decided it had, but even without the injury it was clear from the line of his racing suit that he was far from bring the fittest driver on the grid.
Jones made his return to F1 after an absence of more than a year on the bumpy Long Beach street circuit. He qualified 12th, 0.4s faster than team mate Marc Surer. But Surer passed him on the first lap and went on to finish fifth.
Jones got up to 11th before clipping one of the concrete barriers which lined the track. That sent him into the pits for extensive repairs and left him last. He got back out on the track but, with nothing to gain and his leg starting to hurt, he chose to call it a day.
The hoped-for sponsorship failed to materialise and Jones made his final appearance for Arrows two weeks later in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.
He fared much better in the 40-lap event, which took less than an hour to compete, although he was up against a field of just 12 competitors, half of which failed to finish. Jones started and finished third, almost half a minute behind Keke Rosberg and Danny Sullivan.
Comeback 2: Haas, 1985-6
Two years later Jones was back again, still somewhat out of shape, driving for Haas. He made a one-off appearance for their CART team, finishing third at Road America. Unfortunately their F1 expedition did not turn out so well.
The car, designed by Lola, made its first appearance late in the season at the Italian Grand Prix, using a Hart engine. Unreliability meant the car didn’t finish any of the races it started in 1985 (Jones did not start the controversial race at Kyalami in South Africa, the official reason given that he was unwell).
This was the prelude to a full campaign in 1986 with power from all-new Ford V6 turbo engines. Jones’s car was joined by a second for Patrick Tambay. But the team was hit by a double setback on the eve of the new season. Delays to the engine programme meant they would have to start the season with Harts, and then title sponsor Beatrice cancelled its long-term backing of the team.
Although the engine showed some promise when it finally arrived, for Jones the season was a disaster redeemed only by a couple of ventures into the lower reaches of the points.
In half of the races the car broke down. But if the car wasn’t up to scratch, Jones too was a pale shadow of his former self. He crashed out of four rounds and was out-qualified 11 times by Tambay and once by stand-in Eddie Cheever.
Bernie Ecclestone bought the team at the end of the season but hopes that a sponsor could be found to save the operation were dashed. This time, Jones retired for good.
I think it’s safe to assume Schumacher would not be making a comeback if he expected as little from the car, or himself, as that.
Images (C) Ford