F1 Tales: I Hope Nobody Saw That
You might think a driver with Michael Schumacher’s experience would be able to remember where he was parked just minutes ago but alas, as they formed the grid in Hungary, it wasn’t the case. The fact that he then compounded the error by turning off his engine just boggles the mind. It’s far from the first time it has happened though but then maybe the seven times World Champion missed all the fun from his usual position up at the sharp end of the grid. And the grid is just the starting point for drivers to find themselves in embarrassing situations…
If you thought Schumacher turning his engine off seemed like a bad idea, Giancarlo Fisichella probably wished he’d done likewise in hindsight. The Italian managed to make a mess of lining-up on the grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix not once but twice. However, it was the first of those in 2001 that will no doubt be the most painful for him to reflect on: Attempting to correct the error, cue one Benetton in the centre of the track and at right angles to the rest of the field.
Rolling restarts can be just as problematic as the formality of the grid as Jenson Button found out in 2000 at Monza. With the safety car ready to peel off, Michael Schumacher was busy accelerating and and braking hard to heat his tyres and brakes. Most of the field dealt with this but not Button. As everyone else responded by braking in order to keep position, the Williams driver instead threw himself into the barriers in order to avoid a shunt.
Pit stops are ripe for mistakes as the pressure is on to get back out and rejoin the fray as quickly as possible, as McLaren have been keen to demonstrate this year. However, at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, David Coulthard didn’t even make it as far as the pit box. In his final race for Williams, Coulthard took the lead but it all fell apart at the first round of stops when he slid into the wall on the outside of pit entry. In fairness, Roberto Moreno subsequently followed suit but two wrongs don’t make a right.
Coulthard and Moreno are not the only ones to fail to negotiate the entry to the pit lane, most memorable is perhaps Lewis Hamilton’s slip up in China. With an astonishing rookie season coming to a climax, it all went wrong as his rear tyres wore down to the canvas. Slowing down at the entry, the McLaren driver slid off into the a gravel trap and there he stayed. At least Hamilton had the excuse that the tyres were just about on their last legs, but how McLaren allowed him to reach that stage with the World Championship on the line was astounding. Twelve months later, of course, Hamilton was to have the last laugh as Ferrari jubilantly celebrated Felipe Massa’s “World Championship”.
Entry negotiated, time to find your pit box – surely a piece of cake compared with lining up on the grid given the presence of your pit crew. At the 2010 Abu Dhabi, though, Jaime Alguersuari pulled into the box full of mechanics before realising it wasn’t his Toro Rosso crew but in fact the Red Bull team awaiting Sebastian Vettel. In fairness, Red Bull and Toro Rosso are hard to distinguish at the best of times but there was no such excuse for Jenson Button when he also stopped at Red Bull’s box in China last year. However, perhaps the most remarkable failure to find the pit box belongs to Nigel Mansell. Pulling in front of pit crew, rather than waiting for them to pull him back he selected reverse and drove backwards. An illegal move, he was inevitably black flagged although Mansell still found time to take out Championship contender Ayrton Senna.
When it comes to embarrassing stops, though, few beat Esteban Tuero’s at his home Grand Prix in 1998. Seemingly unprepared, Minardi were not helped by the fuel rig not working properly. Then as the new tyres came out one-by-one, the front-right tyre ended up on the left-hand side of the car. Finally, with the stopwatch ticking past 40 seconds, the crew had to push the car back out into the pit lane as it refused to pull away. The punch line to all this effort was that Tuero later spun out of the race anyway.
Even exiting the pit lane can be traumatic as Gerhard Berger discovered at the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix when, not allowing for cold tyres, he lost control and veered off into the barriers. And that’s just when drivers are allowed to exit. Show them a red light and all sorts of trouble can occur, most memorably when first Lewis Hamilton and then Nico Rosberg failed to see said light in Canada in 2008. Kimi Raikkonen ended up the victim and Robert Kubica the beneficiary as he went on to take his and BMW’s first victory.
Perhaps it’s just best to stay away from the pit lane altogether? Possibly that is exactly what was going through Jean Alesi’s mind in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix of 1997 when he ignored several radio messages from the pit wall to come in for his pit stop. Five laps later, his Bennetton ground to a halt as it ran out of fuel.
Overtaking is a recipe for things to go wrong, especially somewhere as hard to pass at as Monaco. Especially as somewhere as desperately unhelpful to overtaking as the hairpin. It’s tight enough to get one car around, never mind two fighting each other and, unsurprisingly, a blocked track is often the result. None were funnier though than in 1989 when Andrea de Cesaris attempted to slip his Dallara past Nelson Piquet’s Lotus. After coming together, a traffic jam ensued but they seemed oblivious to all this as they sat in their cars, each berating the other.
However, rule number one of overtaking is never take out your team mate. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber’s coming together in Turkey in 2010 probably cost Red Bull a 1-2 finish although even that possibly wasn’t as embarrassing as how the team handled the subsequent media coverage. When it comes to clashing with team mates, though, one man stands out in recent years: When Ralf Schumacher wasn’t shunting Giancarlo Fisichella out of the race with a strong points finish on the cards for Jordan at the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix, he was tangling with Juan Pablo Montoya. Not that Montoya didn’t occasionally return the favour but none topped the US Grand Prix in 2002 when the German attempted to repass Montoya only to spin, smashing into his team mate and taking off his own rear wing for his troubles.
Start, pit stops and overtakes safely negotiated, there’s just the final sprint to the chequered flag to negotiate but as the saying goes, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. Dominating the Canadian Grand Prix in 1991, surely nothing could prevent Nigel Mansell from winning as he started the final lap. Crusing round and waving to the crowd at the hairpin, however, he let the engine revs drop and the engine stalled. As his rivals flooded past, never has the phrase “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” been more apt.
A driver’s maiden victory should be a moment to savour: A slow in-lap soaking in the atmosphere and acknowledging the applause of the fans, before climbing on to the podium. Not for Vittorio Brambilla at the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix. Admittedly, the race was stopped early due to the dreadful weather conditions but still, that’s surely reason to take more care. Instead, arm raised in triumph, the Monza Gorilla crossed the finish line and promptly lost control, sending his March spinning towards the barriers. When he finally reached the pit lane, it was with a crumpled nose. Still, if you are only going to win one race in your career, why not make it memorable?
So the race is over, in-lap completed, now you can relax. You might think so but as Luca Badoer proved, not necessarily, as he capped off what had been an all-round embarrassing Ferrari debut by entering parc fermé and promptly driving into the back of Adrian Sutil’s Force India.
Formula One may feature some of the best drivers on the planet but at the end of the day, it’s good to know they’re still human.
F1 Tales: All in the Timing
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas