The Dark Side Of F1: Scandals And Controversies

The latest controversy in F1 is brought to you by Racing Point. Ever since the start of the season, there has been a lot of talk about Racing Point’s 2020 car being a lot similar to the 2019 Mercedes. Dubbed as “Tracing Point” or “Pink Mercedes”, the RP20 was criticised heavily as the car was performing significantly well as compared to its predecessor, the RP19.

Other teams have also been critical about the legality of this year’s Racing point. Renault has been the most vocal amongst the lot, protesting several times against F1’s governing body, the FIA. The French outfit accused Racing Point of copying the brake ducts from the W10. The FIA upheld Renault’s protest and Racing Point was fined €400k and docked 15 points from the constructors’. 

This is not the first time an F1 team is caught with a legality issue. As compared to other sports, F1 is way too complicated which means it always has loopholes in its rules and regulations and teams often try to exploit them. And in the process, sometimes go one step too many. A very renowned car designer, Colin Chapman, used to spend hours studying the rule book to find loopholes and there is nothing wrong in it unless everything is under the rules and regulation.

The temptation to beat rivals is so much that the teams sometimes forget about ethics and morals. In 71 years of history, along with heroes and role models, Formula 1 has produced controversies and scandals which the sports don’t want us to remember. 

In 2008, Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed on purpose to help his teammate Fernando Alonso win the Singapore GP. In the race, Fernando Alonso started 15th on the grid. On lap 12 of the race, Alonso was first to pit, which was an early call considering the situation and rejoined at the back of the field. Two laps later, Alonso’s Renault teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed into the wall at turn 17 which triggered the safety car. Everyone else then pitted under the safety car, leaving Alonso as the race leader. Alonso kept the lead and went on to win the race.

A year later, Nelson Piquet issued a statement which revealed that the team ordered him to crash on purpose to help Alonso win. The then team principal of Renault, Flavio Briatore was handed a lifetime ban while Renault was suspended for 2 years from F1. The race results, though, remained unchanged.

Just recently, Ferrari had a mysterious settlement with the FIA. The 2018 and 2019 Ferrari had the most powerful engine, but there was always a suspicion that they were breaching the rules by burning excessive oil. This gave them extra horsepower, as compared to the others and was the main reason Ferrari were matching the ever dominating Mercedes. But after the agreement between Ferrari and FIA, the Ferrari pace just fell apart, and the team now find themselves fighting with the midfield teams. Adding to the annoyance, FIA decided not to share the details of the agreement. The drop in performance of the current engine is obvious, and it may be safe to say that there was something not right with the 2019 Ferrari engine.

Team orders have always been a reason for controversy. Team orders are the instructions that drivers receive on the radio that potentially change the result of the race. In the 2001 Austrian GP, Ferrari ordered Rubens Barrichello to let teammate Michael Schumacher pass. Ferrari did it again in 2002. This led to the banning of team orders until 2011. In 2010, Ferrari were fined £65,000 for breaking the team order rule. Running ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa received an illegal massage which went on to become one of the most infamous radio messages, “Fernando is faster than you”, said Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley. After which the Brazilian slowed down to let his Spanish teammate pass.

Now let’s talk about one of the most famous incidents in F1, where, allegedly a championship leader deliberately collided with his closest rival to win the title. In 1989 at the Japanese GP, McLaren teammate Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna made contact. Following the collision, Championship leader Prost retired while Senna restarted his car by receiving an illegal push from the marshals. The Brazilian went on to win the race but later, he was disqualified. Prost won the title and left McLaren for Ferrari, following friction between his teammate Senna. In 1990, on the same track, the pair collided again. But this time it was Senna who won the title. Talk about returning the favour.

On the same line, here are some more incidents. Michael Schumacher had a 1 point lead over Damon Hill when they arrived in Australia at the final race of 1994. Hill and Schumacher were forced to retire after their collision on lap 36. Many blamed Schumacher for the crash while the stewards opted not to take action against him. As a result, Schumacher became the first German driver to win the F1 championship. In 1997, under similar conditions, Schumacher was accused of doing the same thing to Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve finished the race and won the title while championship leader Schumacher retired. Villeneuve won the title beating the German by 3 points. After investigation, the FIA disqualified Schumacher from the championship.  

In 2007, Nigel Stepney, a chief mechanic at Ferrari passed a 780-page confidential data to McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan. To scan the documents, Coughlan’s wife took them to a copy shop. Incidentally, the employee at the copy shop was an F1 fan. After realising that it was Ferrari’s data, he informed Ferrari about it. McLaren were fined $100m and were disqualified from 2007 constructor’s championship.

So, there you have it. These were some incidents through which we tried to put lights on the dark side of Formula 1. Even after all these misconducts, there are a lot of reasons to keep your love for Formula 1 alive. After all, nothing is perfect.

Prathamesh Dhikale
An Engineer with a passion for Motorsports and Football