5 Of The Biggest Shock Retirements In F1 History – WTF1

5 Of The Biggest Shock Retirements In F1 History

In the aftermath of Nico Rosberg’s bombshell decision to retire, we take a look at some other occasions when drivers decided to retire unexpectedly.

For most F1 drivers, retirement happens in one of two ways. They either announce their retirement well in advance and enjoy their final few races, or they simply fail to get a drive one year and never return.

Sometimes, though, a driver retires suddenly and unexpectedly, walking away part way through a contract, a season or sometimes even during a race weekend! Here are five drivers who gave it all up seemingly out of nowhere.

Niki Lauda, 1979

The Brabham BT48 wasn't a great car
The Brabham BT48 wasn’t a great car

After Lauda won his second championship for Ferrari in 1977 he switched the to Brabham team for 1978. There were podiums and wins (including one in the epic Brabham BT46b ‘fan car’) but the car was generally unreliable and he failed to finish many races.

1979 was even worse – he only finished two of the first 13 races – and the car wasn’t competitive. During practice for the penultimate round in Canada he announced he was retiring with immediate effect, saying he was sick of driving around in circles, and walked away before qualifying had even started!

He went off to run his airline but was tempted back to F1 with McLaren in 1982, and ended up winning a third title in 1984.


Mike Hawthorn, 1958

Hawthorn won the championship and then retired
Hawthorn won the championship and then retired

The first Brit to win a world championship Grand Prix (the 1953 French GP), Mike Hawthorn also became the first British champion in 1958 after a consistent season saw him edge out Stirling Moss.

Unfortunately Hawthorn had been deeply affected by the death of fellow Brit and Ferrari team mate Peter Collins months earlier, and walked away from F1 the moment he won the championship at the age of just 29.

Despite surviving one of the most deadly eras of motor racing Hawthorn didn’t get to enjoy his retirement as he was tragically killed in a road crash just months later.

James Hunt, 1979

James Hunt in the Wolf WR7 at Monaco, his final race
James Hunt in the Wolf WR7 at Monaco, his final race

After coming out on top of one of the most legendary rivalries in F1 history, Hunt’s career went downhill after his title success in 1976. There were a few wins in 1977 but McLaren’s competitiveness dropped, and after a lean season in 1978 made the switch to Wolf.

That didn’t work out as planned and his motivation began to fade. A couple of weeks after retiring from the Monaco Grand Prix he announced his retirement and went on to have a successful – and totally amazing – career as a commentator.

Juan Pablo Montoya, 2006

2006 was not a good year for Montoya at McLaren
2006 was not a good year for Montoya at McLaren

Montoya should have been much more successful at McLaren than he was. His shoulder injury in 2005 didn’t help, but by the end of the year he was more or less back to his old self and showing the pace of team-mate Raikkonen.

That made 2006 all the more curious as his performance dropped and he made some silly errors, like spinning on the formation lap in Australia, and spinning out of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Second place at Monaco was the highlight, but relations with McLaren (and particularly Ron Dennis) were souring. After he was blamed for a multi-car pile-up at the US GP in Indianapolis he decided to jump before he was pushed and announced he would race in NASCAR the next year.

With both sides worried about his motivation it was mutually decided that he’d stop racing in F1 immediately and in an instant, F1 was without one of it’s most interesting characters.

Carlos Reutemann, 1982

Carlos Reutemann left F1 two races into a new season
Carlos Reutemann left F1 two races into a new season

Reutemann’s career was enjoying something of an Indian summer at Williams. He came close to winning the championship in 1981 at the age of 39, and the following year had started off well too with a second place at the season opening South African Grand Prix.

However the Falklands War generated tension between the Argentinian (and very political) Reutemann and the British Williams team. This, combined with an increasing lack of motivation, led him to quit after the second round of the season in Brazil (which he retired from). He quit the sport and went on to become a successful politician.


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