The CAR Top 10: greatest racing comebacks

Published: 23 October 2015

► Ten toughest-of-the-tough racing drivers
► Burns, barrel rolls, missing feet...
► ...nothing could keep them on the sidelines

Small matters such as being declared dead or missing a limb or two couldn't stop these desperado drivers getting back in the saddle.

1) Niki Lauda 

Niki Lauda

The most famous comeback of all. Thwarted in his attempt to organise a Nürburgring boycott of the ’76 race on safety grounds, Lauda himself crashed, suffering catastrophic burns. Just six weeks and two races later, sporting reconstructed eyelids, he came fourth at Monza, and missed the title by a single point at season’s end.

2) Alex Zanardi

Alex Zanardi

Former F1 driver Zanardi lost both legs in a terrible CART accident that should have killed him. Showing even more determination than CAR readers used to need to tackle an LJK Setright column, he has since driven an F1 car, competed in the WTCC, and swapped sports altogether to win handcycling gold at London 2012.

3) Mika Häkkinen

Mika Hakkinen

At Australia in 1995, a tyre failure forced the Finn’s McLaren into a tyre wall, where he suffered a fractured skull, internal bleeding, and would have died had race medic Sid Watkins not restarted his heart and ripped him a new airhole, mate. Mika obviously found convalescing dull because he was back in the car three months later.

4) Martin Brundle

Martin Brundle

The following year at the same race, Brundle launched his Jordan into a spectacular first-lap barrel roll, snapping the chassis in two. Only too aware that time was running out to fit in another smash before the race was over, Brundle sprinted back to the pits to grab the spare car, restarted, and promptly collided with Pedro Diniz.

5) Don Garlits

Don Garlits

Big Daddy’s ‘Swamp Rat’ dragsters had already earned him a stack of trophies when his two-speed transmission exploded, taking a chunk of his foot with it, in a 1970 race. Garlits was back on strip the following year in a new mid-engined design, and showing proper bravery by keeping what was left of his foot in, to win more tin.

6) David Coulthard

Sobering viewing:the remains of David Coulthard's light aircraft. Four days after stepping from the wreckage, he finished second at the Spanish GP

Cheating death in a plane crash isn’t ideal prep for a Grand Prix. Coulthard, his bodyguard and girlfriend Heidi Wichlinksi had a miraculous escape when their light aircraft crashed in France, killing both pilots. Four days later, the Scot strapped himself into his McLaren at the 2000 Spanish GP and finished second, broken ribs and all.

7) AJ Foyt

AJ Foyt

As comebacks go, it’s hard to top winning the Indy 500 twice despite being declared dead.  But that’s what Foyt did, a track doctor having almost called for the coroner after a horrendous end-over flip at Riverside in ’65.

8) Johnny Herbert

Johnny Herbert

During a potential championship-winning year in F3000, a horrific crash that chopped off the front of his car nearly left the diminutive Herbert a couple of feet shorter. Unperturbed, he was racing F1 the following year, almost nabbing a podium on his first outing.

9) Tazio Nuvolari

Tazio Nuvolari

TN’s race history is littered with crazy post-crash comebacks on both two and four wheels. But Nuvolari didn’t bother waiting to recover before getting back on track. After one bad smash and with a leg in plaster, he had his car modified so he could operate all three pedals with one foot.

10) Mark Webber

Mark Webber Le Mans crash

Flipping his Mercedes CLR during practice at Le Mans in 1999 proved so enjoyable that Webber did it all over again during the race warm-up. Not wanting to be left out, team-mate Peter Dumbreck had a go in the race, too.

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker