Departing Disgracefully

So, goodbye Jarno Trulli.  The Italian joins those other long-serving and long-suffering absentees from the 2012 F1 grid – Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld.  All three had notable talents, but somehow seemed to leap from being promising newcomers to steady veterans without an intervening period of outstanding success.  All three drivers’ departures are involuntary.  Whatever you think of Barrichello’s final season, I have to admire his refusal to go quietly into the night and to treat what turned out to be his last Brazilian GP as a farewell party.

Some drivers make “good” exits from the sport.  Both Juan Manuel Fangio and Jackie Stewart retired whilst still performing at their best.  Others, like Lauda and Prost, left prematurely but came back successfully.  From extensive study, here are some key rules for making a dignified GP exit:

  • don’t go off in a sulk;
  • don’t hint at “dark forces” having acted against you;
  • don’t hang around like a bad smell, when the mojo’s gone, it’s gone;
  • don’t have stop-start retirements, or if you do, come back winning;
  • don’t spend your final season as a mobile chicane or crash magnate; and most importantly
  • don’t become too “lardy” to fit in the car.

Here are some drivers who didn’t heed this advice:

For some drivers winning the World Championship is a springboard, for others it is a motivational diving board.  James Hunt’s post-championship performances were a downward spiral of diminishing returns.  Having joined the similarly declining Wolf Team in 1979, Hunt found the car and F1 racing in general no longer to his tastes.  Having failed to make any impact in the first few races of the season Hunt retired his car with transmission failure after just 4 laps of the Monaco GP.  He promptly announced his decision to retire from all forms of racing, choosing instead to spend more time with his budgerigars.

Like Hunt, in his heyday Aussie 1980 World Champion Alan Jones was known as a hard charger.  He quit the sport in style in 1981, winning his final race at Las Vegas.  However a few years and a few too many “barbies” later, AJ returned, with undiminished ego but expanded waistline.  In a one-off race for Arrows in 1983 he retired “feeling unwell”, before completing a full season with the Beatrice-Lola-Ford corporate vanity project in 1986.  During the season, AJ argued with his teammate, his team and pretty much everyone else off the track, whilst doing little racing on it.  Retiring again, Jones subsequently signed up for the GP Masters series only to withdraw due to fitness concerns.

Nigel Mansell was another serial retiree  with girth issues.  Our Nige announced his absolute definite, no turning back retirements from F1 at the British GP 1990, Italian GP 1992 and finally, finally, the Spanish GP 1995.  The Brit’s inability to quit might explain the Philip Morris corporation’s desire to pair him with McLaren for the 1995 season.  The Mansell and McLaren combination had “disaster” written all over it, which wasn’t the best choice of paintwork.  Having spent two years supersizing in America, Mansell struggled to squeeze into the MP4/10, until a special “FB” wide load version was constructed for him.  Two dismal outings ended with Il Leone abandoning a perfectly healthy car, and the remainder of his reputation, in the pits at Barcelona.  “Nigel chose not to continue” said Ron Dennis through lips thinner than a Murder She Wrote plot line.

Damon Hill, Mansell’s successor at Williams, sadly followed his compatriot’s less than glorious path into retirement.  Hill stopped racing after a moderately successful 1998 season.  However, for some inexplicable reason, he kept turning up and driving a Jordan around on race weekends during  1999.  Having been soundly outpaced by teammate Frentzen, Hill made a half-hearted lunge for retirement after the French GP, but dragged the agony out to the final race in Japan.  Like Mansell, Hill retired a fully functioning F1 car 22 laps into his final race, with the F1 Yearbook accurately recording the retirement reason as “Discouraged”.  “I lost so much time…that in the end I reckoned there was no point in going on.”  Quite so.

However, the absolute worst departure from F1 was the Columbian bull in a china shop that was Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2006 half-season with McLaren.  When he first came into the sport, “Monty” was the swashbuckling hero who was going to topple the Schumacher and Ferrari juggernaut.  A total of 94 GP starts, 13 pole positions, 30 podiums and 7 wins should have made for a notable career.  Instead, the name Montoya only brings to mind the “tennis” injury  that caused him to miss his first few races with McLaren; his frosty relationship with Ron Dennis; punting Nico Rosberg off the track in Canada and knocking his own teammate out of the following Indianapolis GP and causing a multi-car pile up.  The Columbian responded to the ensuing criticism with all the maturity of a sulky teenaged, announcing his immediate and permanent departure from F1.  He became the first driver to quit F1 to take up dodgem car racing in the US. What a mess.

Are there any alternative examples of disgraceful F1 departures?



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