From left to right: Rubens Barrichello, Sir Richard Branson, Niki Lauda

The thing about racing careers is that they end rather early. And with world champions getting younger every year, that's not about to change. So after hitting their prime, some drivers choose to stick with it a while longer, some set up their own racing teams, driving schools or become commentators, while others embark upon entirely different second careers altogether. Former world champion Niki Lauda, for example, has done it all. After retiring from Formula One racing a double world champion in 1979, he came back in 1982 and won the championship again two years later. Then he retired from racing again, ran his own airline, acted as a consultant to Scuderia Ferrari, managed the Jaguar F1 team, became a commentator for German-language station RTL, and even wrote four books. But at 60 years-old, Lauda's about to embark on yet another career: becoming an astronaut.

The accomplished pilot – both on the track and as a commercial aviator – is training to fly the Virgin Atlantic low-orbit space craft. But this is hardly the only interaction between the space tourism firm and the world of Formula One. After considering a buyout, Richard Branson's Virgin group is sponsoring the Brawn GP team, whose cars ran at this past weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix with the Virgin Galactic logo, and Sir Richard himself was on hand to present Rubens Barrichello with his paid ticket on one of the company's flights. Sure beats Jenson Button's HondaJets, and may even prove a greater high than winning three out of four of this season's races... so far.

[Source: Autosport | Image: Clive Mason/Getty]