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5 times F1 teams were caught cheating

Ferrari were involved in an agreement with FIA after a new technical directive was issued at the start of the 2020 F1 season
Ferrari were involved in an agreement with FIA after a new technical directive was issued at the start of the 2020 F1 season
Charanjot Singh

F1 is a cutthroat business where teams are given a very specific set of technical regulations and have to design the best possible machinery out of those. As a result, what you see is intense competition where teams spend crazy amounts of money only to gain an advantage worth a few tenths of a second per lap.

Throughout the history of the sport, teams have pushed the boundaries of the regulations and even explored the gray areas to gain an advantage over the field. On some of these occasions, the team has gone beyond the prescribed limit and tried to cheat their way to success. In this piece, we will take a look at 5 such scenarios where the teams were caught cheating the regulations.


#1 Ferrari (2020 F1 season, the illegal power unit)

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The 2019 Ferrari power unit was a thing of beauty (or so it seemed). The very first time Ferrari ran on the circuit during the pre-season test, it looked like the class of the field. While by the first race it became clear that the package had its shortcomings, one thing that was quite striking, however, was the straight-line speed of the package.

As FIA drops bombshell Ferrari #F1 engine statement in final moments of #F1Testing, @eddstrawF1 and @SMitchellF1 report from the Barcelona paddock to explain what's going on in our new video:the-race.com/formula-1/vide…

The car was a rocketship on the straights and helped Charles Leclerc to seven pole positions in the season. Not only that, it helped him secure his first win of the season. Having said that, throughout the season, suspicions were raised about the legality of the Ferrari power unit, with teams like Mercedes and Red Bull having questions about it. As it turned out, for the 2020 F1 season, after a new technical directive for the power unit and a subsequent agreement between FIA and Ferrari, the power unit advantage was all but gone.

All of a sudden, Ferrari, a car that was topping the speed traps, was last in the standings. It became apparent that there was something wrong with the power unit and a settlement had been reached with the FIA to make things right.


#2 Renault (2008 F1 season, the Crashgate Scandal)

The first #nightrace saw victory for Renault's Fernando Alonso, although not without significant controversy as it later emerged that teammate Nelson Piquet Jr intentionally crashed earlier in the race to assist Alonso. It became F1's #crashgate#F1 #SingaporeGP 🇸🇬 https://t.co/Lm0G3FRiyw

The 2008 F1 season was one of the not-so-pleasant seasons for Fernando Alonso. He was forced to move from McLaren's front-running machinery to Renault, a team that was on a decline at the time. The funding had dried up and Ferrari and McLaren had taken the initiative.

Over the season, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa battled it out at the front while Alonso watched from the sidelines. His bosses, however, had something else in mind for the Singapore GP. During the race, Alonso gambled on running the car lighter and hence had to pit much earlier than the rest of the field. As soon as the Spaniard came out of the pits, his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed and brought out the safety car.

As a result, all the lead cars had to jump into the pitlane and opt for an alternate strategy. Alonso was the biggest benefactor as he went on to win the race. A year later, in 2009, after Nelson Piquet was fired, it was revealed that Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds had ordered the Brazilian to crash to help Alonso win the race.

As a result, Briatore was served a lifetime ban while Symonds was given a 5-year ban from F1.


#3 McLaren (2007 F1 season, the Spygate Scandal)

McLaren have successfully argued that the £49m fine for the 2007 'spy-gate' scandal was tax-deductible. Via BBC Today news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today…

The 2007 F1 season was significant for so many reasons. It was the first season since Michael Schumacher's retirement. Moreover, this was the debut season of British sensation Lewis Hamilton as he joined Fernando Alonso at McLaren. The season turned out to be a rollercoaster on so many levels.

Ferrari and McLaren went head-to-head for the title. Mid-season, however, it was revealed that Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney had leaked confidential technical information about their car to McLaren engineer Mike Coughlan. As a result, McLaren was disqualified from the championship and fined $100 million by the FIA.


#4 BAR Honda (2005 F1 season, the secret fuel tank)

The 2005 F1 season was an important one for BAR-Honda. They had a breakthrough season in 2004 where they were able to finish second in the constructors' standings behind Ferrari. The 2005 season did not start that well for the team as it trailed the likes of McLaren and Renault.

Things got worse for the team after the Imola GP as during the post-race inspection, it was found that the team had a secret fuel tank that could store 5 kg worth of fuel. If that fuel was drained, then the car would be below the prescribed 600 kg weight limit.

As a result, the team was disqualified from the race (where Jenson Button had finished on the podium). A subsequent ban of two races was also handed out to the team which completely derailed its 2005 season campaign.


#5 Benetton (1994 F1 season, Launch Control)

Schumacher’s start in the 1994 #FrenchGP was so flawless, it enhanced suspicions Benetton were using banned traction control.And it was indeed discovered in the car later in the season by top investigators. It was hidden but Benetton said they'd not used it. Richard Williams: https://t.co/9SYn2wFeJX

Benetton made a huge leap in terms of competitiveness in the 1994 season as compared to the previous year. One of the reasons behind the success was attributed to the team's early adoption of the technical regulations where all driver aids were banned.

Ayrton Senna, who had moved to Williams that season, had his suspicions that Benetton was doing something illegal as the team picked up wins in the first 3 races of the season. It all, however, came to a head mid-season. During an investigation, it was revealed that the team's control unit software had the option of turning on the launch control mechanism in the car that would count as a driver aid.

It wasn't conclusive, however, that it had been used by the team during any race. Hence, the team got away with just a slap to the wrist.


What's your favorite race of the 2022 season so far? Tell us in the comments below..

Edited by Anurag C

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