FOLLOWING this weekend’s bump and grind between Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel, we look back at Formula 1’s most lamentable examples of physical contact.
Yes, it’s those moments when the noble tenets of sportsmanship got shredded and rammed into an opponent’s grill. Without any further ado, here’s our hall of brain-fade shame.
Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill – Adelaide 1994
Despite the fact that the physical likeness of Hanna-Barbera’s Dick Dastardly was based on Damon Hill’s dad, Graham, it was Damon’s rival for the driver’s championship in 1994, Michael Schumacher, who had all the cartoon villain moves.
A solitary point separated the two drivers heading into the 1994 season showdown in Adelaide. Schumacher, who was leading the race, ran wide at the East Terrace corner on lap 36, biffing the concrete wall. As Hill’s Williams swooped to pass Schumi’s ailing Benetton, the German swerved across to the left-hand side of the track before turning in sharply on Hill’s car, demolishing its front left suspension. Schumacher won the championship as a result and forever protested his innocence. Williams naturally took a different view, chief engineer Patrick Head saying "Williams were already 100 percent certain that Michael was guilty of foul play." As indeed, was anybody with a functional set of peepers.
Michael Schumacher vs Jacques Villeneuve – Jerez 1997
Why mess with a winning formula? That appeared to be Schumacher’s logic when, three years later, he found himself in another situation where ramming a rival Williams out of a race would guarantee him the title. Unfortunately, his Ferrari only managed to bump the wrong part of Jacques Villeneuve’s car, ricocheting off his tyres and into one of Jerez’s bottomless gravel traps.
Schumacher was subsequently summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the FIA and on November 11, 1997, it was announced that Schumacher would be disqualified from the 1997 World Championship. Max Mosley stated that the panel "concluded that although the actions were deliberate they were not premeditated". Even the German press turned on him, Frankfurter Allgemeine calling him "a kamikaze without honour" while in Italy, the Agnelli-owned La Stampa – the family who also owned Ferrari - said "His image as a champion was shattered, like a glass hit by a stone." Whoops.
Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost – Suzuka 1989
Although he’s now perceived as a virtual deity, Ayrton Senna had the whole ‘kamikaze without honour’ gig pretty well dialled. His ‘win or crash trying’ mentality was the template for the phenomenally successful Schumacher and nowhere was his ruthlessness better displayed than in the penultimate round of the 1989 Formula 1 season.
Trailing McLaren team mate Alain Prost by 16 points, the Brazilian needed to win both of the final rounds to claim overall victory. His higher downforce setting in the race saw him catch Prost on lap 40, turning hard into the Frenchman, who had nowhere to go, at the chicane. The tactic worked to perfection. The two cars slid to a halt and Prost climbed out, thinking the retirement of the two cars spelled victory for him. Then Senna rejoined the race, pitted for repairs and caught Alessandro Nannini to take the chequered flag. Senna was disqualified and fined US$100,000, FISA labelling him a ‘dangerous driver’. Notoriously paranoid, Senna always maintained that the move was a political act by French FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre to favour his countryman.
Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost – Suzuka 1990
Balestre, Prost and Senna were at it again at the next Japanese GP. After securing the fastest lap in qualifying, Senna asked for pole position to be moved to the cleaner left-hand side of the track. Balestre refused, reasoning that Senna hadn’t had an issue the two previous years where he had also qualified on pole. In a fit of pique, Senna vowed that if Prost, who was alongside him on the grid, got an advantage into the first corner he’d attempt to take the lead into the first corner, come what may.
Sure enough, Prost got a cleaner start, and Senna refused to yield. The two cars flew into the kitty litter, Senna winning the world title in the process. Prost was apoplectic, the normally phlegmatic Frenchman describing the move as "disgusting" and Senna as "a man without value".
Michael Schumacher vs Rascasse – Monaco 2006
Schumacher showed that he hadn’t been fully rehabilitated from character failings in 2006, when, during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, he parked his car at the Rascasse hairpin. Hearing over the radio that Fernando Alonso was on a particularly hot lap that looked likely to deny him pole, Kerpen’s favourite son decided that his Ferrari couldn’t make it around the corner and parked it on the exit, bringing out a yellow flag and denying Alonso a chance to set the fastest lap. He was later stripped of his pole position and sent to the back of the grid by unimpressed stewards.
Steward Joaquin Verdegay later said, "He performed some absolutely unnecessary and pathetic counter-steering, and that lasted five metres, until there was no more chances of going through the turn normally. He lost control of the car while travelling at 16km/h. That's something completely unjustifiable." Former champ Keke Rosberg was also singularly unenamoured of the move. "It was the cheapest, dirtiest thing I have ever seen in F1,” said the Finn. “He should leave F1 and go home."
Nelson Piquet Jr vs The Wall – Singapore 2008
The most egregious, premeditated crash of the lot? You’re looking at it right here. Nelson Piquet Jr crashed on purpose on the 14th lap of the Singapore GP to bring out a safety car in order to advantage title-chasing team mate Fernando Alonso. Putting his car into the wall, the Brazilian endangered spectators, marshals and himself. Both Piquet and Renault executive director of engineering Pat Symonds blamed each other for concocting the spectacularly ill-conceived idea.
Renault didn’t contest the FIA’s charge that they had conspired to fix the race and a year later announced that both Symonds and the team's managing director, Flavio Briatore, had been fired. The flamboyant Briatore really copped a flogging from the authorities, being suspended from all Formula 1 events and FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely, whilst Symonds received a five-year ban, both sanctions later overturned by a French court. British newspaper The Times called it "the worst single piece of cheating in the history of sport."
Felipe Massa, who went on to fall shy of the world title by one point, blamed ‘Crashgate’ for bringing his tally up short, calling Renault's actions "ugly" and said he would never hire fellow Brazilian driver Piquet if he ever became a team principal.
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