The Most Controversial Moments in F1 – Part One
There have been many controversial moments in Formula One and it’s hard to choose which should be listed here but we’ve taken a look at them and judged them based on severity and how they impacted the sport and the Championship in question. Some were considered to be mere slap-of-the-wrist offenses and others were certainly worthy of ending up on this list.
So let’s take a look at the first part of our controversial F1 moments.
It was known as Jerez-gate due to its controversial end to the 1997 World Championship in which Michael Schumacher, looking for Ferrari’s first driver’s title for almost 20 years, made an error in judgement and turned in on Jacques Villeneuve as the Williams tried to overtake a helpless and struggling Ferrari. There was no doubt, it was a lapse in judgement and a blatant move to take Villeneuve out of the race and it threatened to stain Schumacher’s career and overwrite his already impressive record up until that point. (see here for more)
Despite claiming for months afterward that he didn’t see the Williams arriving at the corner down the inside (even though we all saw the blatant wheel turn on the in-camera car feed), the FIA Disqualified him from the World Championship and was punished with a fine for “unsportsmanlike behaviour”.
If there was one thing you wouldn’t have expected in Formula One, it was a spying scandal with a full-on investigation and legal proceedings. There were conspirators, co-conspirators and there was the man with the smoking gun; Nigel Stepney. Once a Ferrari employee on the technical team, Stepney (who was recently killed in a road traffic incident in May 2014) was a major part of the late 1990’s Ferrari revival and its success, joining Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. Unfortunately, despite the kudos he had in the sport he felt the need to pass sensitive Ferrari information to the McLaren Mercedes team, via a senior McLaren engineer, Mike Coughlan.
It was unheard of in the sport and it caused upset amongst technicians, engineers, managers and anyone who considered themselves professionals. There was a risk of Stepney being imprisoned by the Italian courts but he was fined £500 and McLaren were fined £100 Million pounds and were stripped of its 2007 Constructors points. It was a shameful year for McLaren and someone who was revered in the motor racing community was publicly ostracised and punished, and rightly so.
Another “gate”-named incident sparked fury within the sport when Renault were accused of purposely crashing one of their cars in order to get the safety car to come out, which would potentially help number one driver Fernando Alonso to win the race. Thankfully the incident didn’t result in injury or endanger anyone else but it did show that the sport had a seedier side; more deceptive.
Nelson Piquet, Jr. claimed in 2009, after leaving that he was ordered by the team to crash deliberately into the wall at turn seventeen to cause the safety car to be deployed. Renault was charged with conspiracy and an investigation was under way. The Managing Director Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering had left the team already but they were both suspended from FIA events indefinitely, only for the decision to be overturned. However, such was the dismay in the paddock and their reputations ruined, they agreed not to work in Formula One for a specified time due to another agreement set by the Governing body.
The events of this race could have potentially changed the fate of two drivers in 2008, as Lewis Hamilton beat Filipe Massa by one point to the Driver’s Championship. Massa was leading the race in Singapore easily, when the safety car was deployed because of the Renault incident.