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Seven incidents that shocked the F1 world

Sriram Ilango
Modified 26 Mar 2013, 23:57 IST
Top 5 / Top 10

In the light of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel‘s spat at the Malaysian Grand Prix, let us take a look at 7 other controversial incidents that shook the world of Formula 1.

# 7 – 2002, Austria – Rubens Barrichello lets Michael Schumacher pass him

This is one incident that is still etched in the minds of millions of Ferrari fans around the world. In the 2002 Austrian GP, Barrichello was leading the race till the finish line when he conceded the spot to his team mate, Schumacher based on team orders.

A year back, in the same Austrian GP, Barrichello had done the same thing. Schumacher, on receiving the first place trophy at the podium, gave it immediately to Barrichello and insisted that the Brazilian take the first place spot on the podium. Both men were extremely professional about the whole thing.

The race, however, attracted a lot of jeers. The FIA also pronounced a set of new rules that prohibited “team orders” that would directly affect the race outcome.

# 6 – Is Michael Schumacher a fair champion?


I’m a big Schumacher fan and personally think that it was his dominance that brought F1 to the limelight. But, is he a fair champion?

In 1994, the final race of the season was contested in Adelaide, Australia. Williams’ Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, who was racing for Benetton at that time, were separated by a single point. At lap 35, Hill was about to overtake Schumacher when the German decided to make an aggressive turn. Schumacher’s car was damaged heavily and he retired on the spot. Hill, however, continued to race despite losing a portion of his wing. But, in his pits, he realized that it couldn’t be repaired and pulled out of the race, handing Schumacher the title by a mere point.

Although Schumacher maintains that it was an honest mistake, many pundits including Damon Hill himself are not satisfied with the story.

Three years later in 1997, the exact same situation resurfaced with Schumacher and Jack Villeneuve. The final race of the season was the European GP. Schumacher had a lead of a single point yet again. When Villeneuve attempted to overtake the German in lap 48, Schumacher attempted a similar move. This time though, Villeneuve escaped and Schumacher retired on the spot. Villeneuve went on to finish fourth and took home the Championship.

Schumacher was accused by the FIA for causing an accident that could have been avoided. His name was excluded from the Championships that year.

# 5 – 2009, Australia – McLaren and Hamilton lie to the stewards

The incident which is better known as the “lie gate” took place in the 2009 Australian GP. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli had finished third in the race. McLaren, however, claimed that Trulli had illegally overtaken their driver Lewis Hamilton when the safety car was imposed.

Hamilton, when questioned by the stewards said that he had no idea that Trulli was going to overtake him and he was not informed about that. But on going through McLaren’s radio recordings, the stewards found out that the team had in fact instructed Hamilton to make way for Trulli.

Hamilton was stripped off his points and so were McLaren. Their director Dave Ryan was sacked because of the incident.

# 4 – 2007 – McLaren-Ferrari and the “spygate”

Mike Coughlan

In 2007, Ferrari claimed that their former engineer Nigel Stepney had passed critical design information to the engineers of McLaren’s Mike Coughlan. The case was filed in Italy and the FIA looked into it. McLaren were found guilty.

An unprecedented $100 million dollar fine was imposed on them and they were excluded from the constructor’s championship table which they would have won if not for the exclusion.

In another twist, McLaren claimed that Renault F1 knew about the intricate design and working of their cars. Renault too were investigated and the claims were found to be true. But Renault were not punished for the incident.

This controversy took place from April to September and it even took the limelight away from the actual races.

# 3 – 1989 and 1990, Japan – Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna

Grand Prix of Japan

Prost and Senna’s rivalry is the best that the sport of F1 has ever seen. But it was not always pleasing to watch.


In 1989, both Prost and Senna were driving for McLaren. In the penultimate race at Suzuka, Prost and Senna crashed into one another. If both had retired, the title race was mathematically over. Prost jumped out of his car but Senna sparked his engine into life and continued the race. After pitting and repairing his car, Senna drove bravely to win the race.

But the marshals had to strip Senna’s points because he had missed a chicane during his accident, which meant he had technically not completed the lap. The title went to Prost. After the race, Prost shifted to Ferrari.

A year went passed by. The same penultimate race at Suzuka started. This time Senna had a nine-point lead over Prost. In Suzuka, Senna qualified ahead of Prost. But he wanted to start from the “cleaner” side of the track as the pole position was dirty. FIA rejected his request. The race started and Prost, in fact, did have an advantage starting at the cleaner side of the road. Senna saw this and drew his car into Prost’s Ferrari. Both men retired from the race and Senna sealed the championship.

After the race, Senna did agree to the fact that he had intentionally done this and Prost claimed, “What he did was disgusting”, and added, “he is a man without value.”

# 2 – 2009, Singapore – Nelson Piquet Jr. crashes intentionally

This incident did take the world by storm.


In 2009 at Singapore, Renault’s Fernando Alonso had a bad qualifying session and ended 15th in the lane. When the race began, he was the first to take a pit and joined at the tail end of the race. One by one, other drivers took the pits joining in behind Alonso. Now, Alonso was leading the pack.

In a bizzare twist, Alonso’s team mate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed in a turn and this brought the safety cars into the field. After the safety car was removed, it was as if Alonso was leading the race right from the word go.

Alonso made full use of this situation and went on to win the race. After being removed from the team, Nelson Piquet Jr. revealed that the accident was intentional. Renault were charged by the FIA and did not contest the charges. They sacked the Managing Director and Executive Manager of the team. The main sponsors of Renault F1 left the team and this ended their dominance in the sport.

# 1 – 1994 – The death of Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna


Ayrton Senna was many things. He was arrogant, at times overbearing and even dangerous, but he was the most skilful driver that the sport had ever seen. He, along with Prost, brought flair to the sport. And his death at the 1994 San Marino GP still remains the most tragic event that has occurred not only in the history of Formula 1, but in the history of professional sports altogether.

Senna did not finish the first two races of the season and wanted to win here. He took pole position for a record 65th time. During qualification, Simtek’s Roland Ratzenberger had suffered a fatal crash at the speed of 314 km/h. Senna who had already seen his compatriot Barrichello suffer an injury a day ago was shocked by this. He went to the medical centre for the second time in two days and talked to doctor Sid Watkins, a neurosurgeon and FIA’s medical delegate, and also a friend. Dr. Sid informed him that Roland had died and urged Senna to withdraw from the race, if not the sport itself. Senna said that he couldn’t do it even if he wanted to.

Before the race, Senna talked to Prost, who now was a TV pundit about improving safety rules in F1. Prost said that he would lobby for his cause. When shooting a commercial before the race, Senna even commented that he missed Prost on the track.

The race began. On lap seven, Senna’s car was travelling at 310 km/h when he lost control and hit an unprotected wall of concrete. It took less than 2 seconds and hence, Senna couldn’t slow down the car. Senna lay motionless there. His head was still and he didn’t shake his helmet.

The marshals didn’t get him out of the car and waited for medical assistance. Sid Watkins came to the spot and tried to attend to Senna.


Watkins commented this after Senna’s death, “He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am not religious, I felt his spirit depart at that moment.”

Italian officials however maintain that Senna had died in the hospital and not on the track. If he had in fact died on the track, by Italian law, the event should have been cancelled which would have led to massive financial loss. Williams, Senna’s team at that time, contested Senna’s death in court for manslaughter. The case went on for years and it was finally closed in 2007 against the Williams, stating that they did not have enough evidence.

During the autopsy, the medical examiners found an Austrian flag in the sleeve of Senna’s clothes. It was later revealed that Senna had intended to raise the flag in honour of Roland Ratzenberger. The pictures of Senna’s final moments were never published out of respect to this great man.

His lifelong rival Alain Prost was one of the pallbearers at his funeral and till date hasn’t spoken about Senna’s death publicly. Rigel Roebuck, a senior F1 journalist says that when Senna died, “a part of himself (Prost) had died also.”

Published 26 Mar 2013, 23:57 IST
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