Life after the fast lane

Nico Rosberg won’t be short of inspiration when it comes to deciding what to do next

Robert Benoist, who won all four major Grands Prix in 1927, was left without a job when Delage withdrew from racing at the end of that season. With Grand Prix racing in the doldrums and almost no factory participation, his immediate prospects were not good. He was recruited to be sales manager for the Banville Garage in Paris’s 17th arrondisement. This was a project involving a group of wealthy car enthusiasts and reputedly the world’s first multi-storey car park.

The business catered to owners of expensive cars that could be garaged and maintained at the premises, and the top floor featured an exclusive restaurant. Having the world’s most prominent racing driver of the time associated with it lent the establishment an extra layer of sheen. The seven floors were connected by a winding ramp and, as a publicity stunt, Benoist organised a demonstration ‘race’. The business was a great success, but before too long Benoist had picked up a drive with Bugatti. He was later a key figure in the French Resistance (together with fellow Grand Prix drivers William Grover-Williams and Jean-Pierre Wimille), where his deeds were truly heroic. He was executed by the Nazis at Buchenwald in 1944.

Benoist’s associate Wimille subsequently continued his racing career and was probably the world’s leading driver in the immediate post-war era. Had there been a world championship (rather than merely a series of Grands Prix) in 1948, Wimille would have won it, driving for the Alfa Romeo team. He was killed in a accident in practice in Buenos Aires in 1949, driving a Gordini. So the world never got to see how his post-racing plans — which were ambitious — would play out. He had already conceived and built his mid-engined Wimille road car, which he planned to put into production. He had once revealed to René Dreyfus (when they were in adjacent hospital beds after suffering accidents in the same race) that he planned to be a politician after racing.

Britain’s first world champion Mike Hawthorn famously retired shortly after clinching the title in 1958 and his plan was to run the family garage that his recently deceased father had left him. That lasted only a few months before his fatal accident on the Guildford by-pass.

Phil Hill, 1961 world champion, retired six years later. His knowledge of cars was immense and his technical understanding extensive, so his establishment of a car restoration business Hill & Vaughn (with partner Ken Vaughn) was a natural move. This specialised in very high-end road and racing car restorations in Hill’s native California. He remained employed by the company through to the 1990s after selling out in the ’80s.

After retiring at the end of 1974, ’67 world champion Denny Hulme spent a year in Europe leading the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) before retiring to his native New Zealand to take on on various local projects in his home town of Rotoiti, including clearing the bushland around the natural hot pools. But the pull of competition eventually brought him back to touring car racing. He died at the wheel after suffering a heart attack in the 1992 Bathurst 1000.

Perhaps the most ambitious post-racing career belongs to Niki Lauda. The Austrian had already established his airline Lauda Air when he retired from Formula 1 first time around, mid-practice at the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix. From Montréal Lauda headed straight out to Boeing to order a new wide-body 747. The airline started out as a charter service but by the end of the ’80s was undertaking its first long-haul flights from its headquarters in Vienna to Australia, Cuba and the USA. The business was later bought out by Austrian Airlines.

Only a few ex-drivers managed to make significantly more money post-racing that during their careers. Chief among them is Jody Scheckter, who amassed a serious fortune after retiring from F1 at the end of 1980. The South African established a security systems company, building firearms training simulators for military, law enforcement and security organisations. Selling up allowed him to move into his current venture of biodynamic farming, which has made him one of the best-known organic farmers in Britain. Both ventures have proved far more profitable than his racing career.

Likewise, world champion of 1981, ’83 and ’87, Nelson Piquet is another who claims to have earned more money after quitting F1 than he ever did driving. He established a company specialising in GPS tracking for trucking companies.

Perhaps the most idiosyncratic post-F1 career belongs to Mike Thackwell. The New Zealander, who at just 19 famously became the then youngest driver to start a GP, was entered in a handful of races in the ’80s without much luck and left the sport altogether in 1988.

He went on to try various jobs, becoming a helicopter pilot servicing North Sea oil rigs and a gold miner in Australia, before eventually settling on the south coast of England working as a special-needs supply teacher, part-time barman and surfer. Mark Hughes