I think a large bulk of people viewing these articles would agree with me in saying that Formula 1 is indeed a sport. The drivers have to go to the gym and train their muscle day in, day out so that they can sustain the unbelievable G-forces that would leave the ordinary person close to fainting. Especially in the age before power-steering, the F1 pilots needed relatively strong arms just to be able to turn the steering wheel in either direction. Finally, being sat in a cramped, uncomfortable cockpit for up to several hours counter-intuitively takes the life out of you, particularly if the outside conditions are wet, hot, or both. The immense fitness of some drivers has allowed them to take part in other sports, and as you will see a handful of them competed at a very high level…
Jackie Stewart – Clay Pigeon Shooting
Jackie Stewart showed a real knack for shooting from a very young age. He won his first clay pigeon shooting championship having just entered his teenage years, and his prowess looking through the sights of a gun was so remarkable that he was chosen for the Scottish national shooting team. He subsequently won a host of tournaments around the UK and even won the European Championships 2 times.
The Scotsman looked set to compete in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but during qualifying for the event he lost his mark and was not selected for the British squad to go to Italy that year.
Jackie was so disappointed by this outcome that he gave up on the sport thereafter. He instead chose to focus on motorsport, and the so-called “Flying Scot” eventually won the World Drivers’ Championship three times!
Alessandro Zanardi – Handcycling
Alex Zanardi had a fairly mediocre career in Formula 1. He only managed a singular point at the 1993 Brazilian Grand Prix where he finished in 6th place for Lotus.
He was nevertheless much more successful in CART, winning back-to-back titles in ’97 and ’98 which saw Williams take a punt at the Italian driver for the 1999 F1 season. He disappointed once again with no points and returned to America for the 2001 CART season.
At the 2001 American Memorial at the Lausitzring that year, Zanardi suffered a horrific crash which saw him lose both his legs after the nose of his car was destroyed in a collision. Alessandro spurred on however, and after a year of rehabilitation he competed in various other motorsport disciplines using hand-operated controls.
By 2007 he had turned his attention to paracycling, more specifically handcycling. His will and determination to be the best at whatever he did saw him improve at a rapid pace, and he was selected to compete for the Italian Paralympic team at the 2012 London Paralympics. Unbelievably he won 2 gold medals and a silver, and repeated this amazing feat at the next Paralympics at Rio de Janeiro.
Unfortunately, in 2020 Zanardi suffered yet another career-ending crash while handcycling in Italy and lost consciousness for several months. As of December 2021, he has only recently been able to return home and continues to improve gradually. There is no doubt that Zanardi is a dogged fighter, both on and off the track.
John Surtees – Motorcycle racing
John Surtees was F1 World Champion in 1964, but is perhaps better known for his exploits in motorcycle racing. he was even more successful on 2 wheels rather than four, winning the World Championship in 1956 before following that up with three more titles in a row between 1958 and 1960. He won an astounding 32 of the 39 races he competed in, including the infamous Isle of Man TT which he won three times in succession.
Surtees made the switch to car racing in 1960, making an immediate impact by getting 2nd place in only his second F1 race start! After winning the drivers’ crown in ’64, his best result was 2nd in the standings in 1966.
He made his own team in 1970 and drove for Team Surtees for three years, claiming a pair of 5th positions and a 6th place in 19 starts.
Divina Galica – Skiing
Skiing was the name of the game for British driver Galica before her brief foray in Formula 1. She competed in 4 Winter Olympics, captaining the women’s ski team in 1968 and 1972, which took place at Grenoble and Sapporo respectively. On 2 instances she managed to post a time in the top 10, at the Giant Slalom events.
Her raw speed appeared to translate to open-wheel racing as well; she was a regular points-finisher at the Shellsport International Series in 1976 and 1977 before making the jump to the short-lived British Formula One Championship in 1978. She got on the podium in her first race at the Zandvoort round and caught the eye of Hesketh Racing in F1.
She participated in 2 Formula 1 races with the team in 1978, but was unable to qualify both times as the car was woefully underpowered compared to the rest of the grid. Divina is one of only 5 women to enter a Formula 1 Grand Prix race.
Birabongse Bhanudej – Sailing
As one of the few members of a royal family to ever compete in F1, Prince Bira of Siam certainly attracted a crowd wherever he went racing. He is also only the second Thai driver to enter an F1 race, with Alexander Albon being the other.
Birabongse managed 8 points in 19 starts while driving his iconic light blue and yellow liveried cars (the national racing colours of Siam at the time).
Bhanudej was also a talented sailor and took part in 4 Summer Olympics between 1956 and 1972. While he didn’t win any accolades for his sailing, it still goes to show what a versatile athlete the prince was. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, he competed in sailing against fellow former F1 pilot Roberto Mieres. The Argentinian beat Bira to the flag in 17th and 19th places.
Graham Hill – Rowing
The 1962 and 1928 World Drivers’ Champion was a masterful rower before making his mark in motor racing. At one point Hill was included in the distinguished London Rowing Club. He won 8 out of 20 of the tournaments that he took part in, all while being located in the most physically demanding section of the boat, called the stroke side.
Even after the commencement of his Formula 1 career, Graham Hill never forgot about his rowing roots, continuing to support the London Rowing Club. At one point the club was struggling financially so Hill organised a charity event to raise money for what was essentially his spiritual home in his early days.
Furthermore, his helmet artwork was influenced massively by the colours and design of the rowing club. His son Damon Hill used the same colours on his helmet too.
Alfonso de Portago – Bobsleigh
Here we have another member of a royal family, this time a Spanish aristocrat. Clearly the royals had a lot of free time and money on their hands to compete in various sports at the highest level.
Alfonso de Portago by no means paid his way to the top however. He was a highly able-bodied and charismatic young man who excelled in numerous sports, including horse-riding and bobsleigh.
He helped form Spain’s first bobsledding team in 1956 for the Winter Olympics of that year. To everyone’s surprise Spain not only qualified for the event but came just 0.16 seconds away from a medal, claiming 4th place.
De Portago then raced for Ferrari in the 1956 and 1957 F1 seasons, managing a podium at the British Grand Prix of his debut campaign.
The Spaniard was tragically killed in the 1957 Mille Miglia in a crash which also took the lives of 9 spectators. They were lining the side of the road when Alfonso’s tyre blew at 150 miles per hour.
Alexander Wurz – BMX
Alexander Wurz drove for various competitive teams in his Formula 1 portfolio, achieving 3 podiums for Benetton, McLaren and Williams. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996 and 2009, so you can clearly tell that the Austrian driver was a highly skilled sportsman.
Even back when he was still a little kid, Wurz was a serious competitor. He was a talented cyclist and won the World BMX Championship at a mere 12 years of age!
During his 5-year hiatus from F1 after the 2000 season, Wurz along with a friend co-founded a cycling team (Rainer-Wurz.com), which was sponsored by McLaren and won several World Cups.
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