Here are 10 of the biggest Formula 1 fails

By topgear, 06 July 2020

1. 2005 US Grand Prix tyre disaster

During practice for the 2005 United States GP there were several tyre failures for the Michelin runners, one quite major for Ralf Schumacher. It led to the French firm stating that those teams running its tyres would have to slow for turn 13 (the fast banked corner), because they would only last 10 laps.

Nowadays of course, they could have just popped into the pits for a quick swap, but at that point the rules said a set of tyres had to go the full race distance. Michelin tried to get a chicane put in at turn 13 but it was refused by the FIA as that was deemed unfair on the Bridgestone teams.

So at the end of the formation lap all Michelin shod teams peeled off into the pits, leaving only six starters – two Ferraris, two Jordans and two Minardis. What was set to be a great GP with Jarno Trulli on pole, Kimi Raikkonen in second and Jenson Button in third turned into a farce. 

The crowd booed and jeered and F1 never returned back to the iconic Brickyard. It was a huge embarrassment to F1 that damaged the sport’s reputation in the States up until its sensational return to Austin in 2012.

And what happened in the race? Well, Schumi won, Barrichello followed him home and some bloke called Monteiro came third in a Jordan. Oh, and the Minardis came last – some things never change, eh?

Image: LAT

2. Kimi drops a bomb live on TV

On the grid of the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix there was a presentation for Schumacher’s first retirement, with most of the drivers making their way up to the start line for the auspicious moment.

During his customary live grid walk, then-ITV presenter Martin Brundle asked taciturn Finn Kimi Raikkonen why he had failed to show his face – Kimi responded by saying he’d gone for a s**t. Funny, but probably not the best thing for the family to hear as it sits down to a Sunday roast.

Image: LAT

3. Pay driver controversy

Pay drivers are not new to F1, but some argue buying your way into a seat means that those without money bags behind them can’t get through even if they’re more talented. 

One famous recent example saw Pastor Maldonado replacing then-rookie Nico Hulkenberg at Williams for the 2011 season, reportedly bringing with him much-needed cash courtesy of the Venezuelan government. 

While Pastor had a good previous record (he was the GP2 champion) and did win in the Spanish GP in 2012, he did have a tendency to be a bit crashy. In fact there was an entire website dedicated to him crashing. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg has never landed in the front-running seat that many say his talent deserves.

While talent should always shine through, money unfortunately talks. Just ask Marc Hynes: he won the Formula Vauxhall title in 1995, British Formula Renault Championship in 1997 and then the British F3 title in 1999, beating Jenson Button – but he never made it to F1. Where is he now? He coaches racing drivers and is an adviser to Hamilton… funny old world.

4. Crashgate – 2008 Singapore GP

Where to start on this one… in short, bosses at the Renault F1 team in 2008 asked Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash at the Singapore Grand Prix so it gave an advantage to team mate Fernando Alonso. 

Alonso had made an early pitstop, out of sync with rivals, but his team mate’s accident at a recovery black spot a few laps later triggered the safety car, promoting Alonso to the lead and an eventual win.

At the time nothing seemed unusual and no one ever imagined something like this would happen. When Piquet was dropped from the team in the middle of the 2009 season, he blew the whistle in return for immunity, fuelling an investigation. 

This led to Briatore and Symonds being banned from F1 (the latter for five years, the former indefinitely). Renault got away with a suspended sentence as it had taken action on firing Briatore and Symonds – Alonso was cleared of all wrongdoing.

Image: LAT

5. Protester runs on the track during the British GP

At the 2003 British Grand Prix, protester Neil Horan - dressed in what can only be described as an elf’s folk dancing outfit - somehow made it onto the track and ran down the 200mph Hangar straight waving a board at cars while they swerved past him. 

Luckily no one was hurt and Catholic priest Horan (later defrocked by the church in 2005) was wrestled to the ground by a marshal and jailed. But that wasn’t the last we heard of Horan – he dragged a marathon runner out of the lead in the 2004 Athens Olympics and amazingly got to the second round of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 thanks to his spry Irish jig. Words fail us.

Image: LAT

6. Taki Inoue hit by the safety car

It’s dangerous enough being an F1 driver, and breakdowns and crashes are all part of the game. And when you do break down you know that help is on its way via the safety teams and medical cars. 

But what you don’t expect to happen is to be run over by the very car that’s arrived to help you. Yep that’s right – at the 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix, Taki’s car went up in smoke, he quickly parked it and jumped out. While trying to get a fire extinguisher to help the marshals with the engine fire, the medical car arrived and knocked him over the bonnet, injuring his leg. Irony being he was fine before that.

7. Coulthard hits the pit wall

Not much to say about this one – David Coulthard was racing in his final GP for the Williams team, leading the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, which was taking place on the Adelaide street circuit for the last time. On lap 20 with a comfortable lead, Coulthard came into the pits for his first stop, but never made it to his garage because he slid straight into the wall at the pitlane entrance. Fail of all fails…

Image: LAT

8. Spygate – McLaren v Ferrari

Quite a big one, this, and there probably isn’t enough space on these pages to explain it in full. 2007 was a tough year for McLaren, as not only did it have the fireworks of Hamilton vs Alonso (wasn’t that great to watch?), the team was also excluded from the Constructors’ Championship. 

Why? It all revolved around a dossier containing hundreds of pages of secret information from the Ferrari factory, which the FIA ruled McLaren had used to gain a “fraudulent sporting advantage”. The punishment? A record $100 million fine and the wiping of all constructors points for that year. Ouchy. Still, that year saw Kimi Raikkonen win his first and only championship to date for the Prancing Horse.

Image: LAT

9. Mansell celebrates too early

At the 1991 Canadian GP, what looked to be a dominant win for Nigel Mansell was ended abruptly as he waved to the crowd in celebration half a lap before the finish.

His car stopped. He’d let the revs on his engine drop too much and it stalled. Three-time champ Nelson Piquet surged past in his Benetton to take the chequered flag. Oh dear, Nigel.

10. Lola’s embarrassing debut

It’s incredible to think that Lola was such a big failure when it came to F1 – a big name in motorsport supplying chassis to teams in many categories, Lola decided to try its hand in the top flight. 

With backing from Mastercard, the team started the 1997 season in Australia, or in fact didn’t start as both drivers failed to qualify. It was then forced to withdraw from the next race in Brazil due to financial and technical problems and never raced in F1 again. 

So that was one race, a reported £6 million of debt and receivership a few weeks later. Good going.