As Sebastian Vettel’s clash with Lewis Hamilton in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix continues to dominate the headlines, F1 Top 10, takes a look at five of the biggest controversies to hit F1 since the turn of the millennium.
5. Vettel defies team orders
Sebastian Vettel claimed a controversial victory in Malaysia back in 2013 after he defied team orders. The German’s teammate at the time, Mark Webber, was leading the race when the Red Bull pit wall told both of their drivers to hold station with the now infamous “Multi-21” call coming over team radio meaning car two (Webber) is to finish ahead of car one (Vettel). Despite the team orders and even a call over team radio from team principal, Christian Horner, Vettel disobeyed the orders to take victory after an intense battle ensued on track between the Red Bull teammates. The controversy was the latest in a string of incidents which had seen the relationship between Vettel and Webber reach breaking point with the Australian announcing his retirement from F1 just a few months later.
4. 2005 US Grand Prix
The US Grand Prix in 2005 was one of the strangest races in F1 history. During Friday practice ahead of the race, Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher suffered a Michelin tyre failure resulting in him crashing at the final high-speed banked corner of the Indianapolis circuit. Following the incident and several other failures, Michelin, advised the seven teams who used their tyres that they could not guarantee the safety of the tyres unless their proposal to allow a chicane to be installed on the final corner of the track was approved by the FIA. However, the sport’s governing body rejected this idea and as a result the Michelin customer teams of Renault, McLaren, Williams, Toyota, BAR, Sauber and Red Bull all boycotted the race after completing the formation lap. That left just six cars on the starting grid with Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi all running on Bridgestone tyres. The controversial race was won by Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and needless to say the farce severely damaged the F1 brand in America.
3. Ferrari team orders
The Austrian Grand Prix in 2002 saw one of the most controversial finishes to a race that the sport has ever witnessed. Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello was leading the race and had been quicker than his teammate Michael Schumacher in Friday practice as well as taking pole position in qualifying. However, with just a few laps of the race remaining, Ferrari, ordered the Brazilian to let Schumacher passed and to allow the German to extend his championship lead despite already having a healthy advantage at the top of the standings. With just a few metres to go until the chequered flag, Barrichello, slowed down on the final corner and allowed Schumacher to pass and to claim victory despite the Brazilian having led every lap. On the podium, Schumacher and Ferrari were greeted with anger from the fans at Spielberg in what was one of the most blatant uses of team orders the sport has ever seen.
The 2007 Formula One espionage controversy better known as “spygate” was one of the biggest scandals to hit the sport. “Spygate” refers to the allegations that Ferrari made in 2007 against former employee Nigel Stepney with the Scuderia alleging that Stepney had passed on confidential technical information to the then McLaren chief engineer Mike Coughlan which led to a criminal investigation in Italy. The FIA also investigated the allegations and found McLaren guilty of using confidential information from Ferrari in order to gain an unfair sporting advantage which resulted in several penalties for the Woking-based outfit. The team was excluded from the constructors’ championship in 2007 and given a record fine of $100 million.
The inaugural Singapore Grand Prix proved to be one of the most controversial races in the history of the sport. On the 14th lap of the race Nelson Piquet Jr. under the orders of his Renault team crashed his car into the wall at turn 17 thus bringing out the safety car. With the safety car out it helped to bunch up all the cars and allowed Piquet’s teammate at the time, Fernando Alonso, who had made an early pit-stop catch up with the leaders despite starting the race down in 15th. With the pit-lane being closed during the first stages of the safety car period this meant that the front runners were forced to take a penalty for pitting and as a result, Alonso, found himself leading the race and went onto win his first race of the 2008 season. However, all was not as it seemed. After being dropped mid-season by Renault in 2009, Piquet, revealed he had been told to crash deliberately by his Renault team under the orders of team boss at the time, Flavio Briatore, in order to help Alonso win with the allegations sending shock waves through the paddock. The FIA launched an investigation and found Renault guilty of race-fixing with the French manufacturer given a two-year suspended ban from Formula 1. Flavio Briatore was given a lifetime ban from F1 for his role in the scandal and the team’s technical director Pat Symonds was handed a five year ban but both of these were overturned at a later date. The spectacle of the inaugural night race in F1 left the sport in a dark place with “crashgate” one of the biggest controversies to have came out of the sport. Piquet’s deliberate crash not only endangered himself but also spectators and marshals alike and put the integrity of the sport into disrepute.