Top ten… Most notorious backmarkers

Top Ten

Saturo Nakajima, Kazuki Nakajima, Hungaroring, 2007 | LAT Photographic / Glenn DunbarKazuki Nakajima makes his Grand Prix debut this weekend.

Long time Grand Prix fans will remember the one occasion his father made a decisive move at the front of the field – by taking Ayrton Senna’s front wing off during the Brazilian Grand Prix while Senna was lapping him.

But that’s by no means the worst backmarker horror story. Here’s ten of the most infamous. Jean-Denis Deletraz fans will not be disappointed…

Satoru Nakajima

The symmetry is eerie. It was at Interlagos, where the young Nakajima makes his F1 debut this weekend, were his father Satoru achieved notoriety by colliding with Ayrton Senna while he was being lapped.

In Satoru’s defence, Senna did lunge at him while trying to put the Japanese (his former team mate) a lap down. But it cost the Brazilian what would have been his first victory at home.

Let’s home Kazuki doesn’t repeat his father’s mistake of 1990…

Jos Verstappen

Another backmarker who achieved notoriety in Brazil. Verstappen drove into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya while the Columbian was leading in his third Grand Prix.

Montoya kindly refrained from killing Verstappen, and later made amends by winning the race twice in 2004 and 2005.

Olivier Grouillard

Many a race leader in the late eighties/early nineties became familiar with the back of Frenchman Grouillard’s car.

I began watching F1 in 1989, and one of the first drivers’ names I learned was Grouillard’s because of how regularly the commentators would curse him for delaying the leaders.

Norberto Fontana

Conspiracy theory alert! It didn’t go unnoticed when, during the 1997 European Grand Prix, race leader Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari cruised past the Ferrari-engined Sauber of Norberto Fontana with ease, yet the pursuing Jacques Villeneuve in a Williams lost several seconds behind the Argentinian.

Years later Fontana alleged:

Two or three hours before the race started Jean Todt entered [the motorhome] and went straight to the point: by strict order of Ferrari, Villeneuve must be held up if you come across him on the track. To whoever this applies.

Peter Sauber denied the allegation. You can judge for yourself:

Jean-Denis Deletraz

Deletraz was so appallingly slow on his debut at Adelaide in 1994 he was passed by the leaders on lap ten – losing 80s in nine laps. Somehow he got another drive the following year…

Jean Pierre Jarier

A favourite target of James Hunt in his commentating years, who blasted Jarier as, “a French wally – always has been, always will be.”

Jarier certainly earned the criticism at the Osterreichring in 1983 when he baulked leader Patrick Tambay so badly it let the other Ferrari driver Rene Arnoux into the lead. Even as they crested the daunting swoops of the Austrian track Tambay had one hand off the wheel, shaking his fist in rage at Jarier.

What was particularly sad was that Jarier had been a front runner in his day, but fell out of favour with the top teams and his careless driving at the back of the field often smacked of bitterness.

Rene Arnoux

Much the same could be said of Rene Arnoux. A multiple Grand Prix winner earlier in the 1980s, by the end of the decade he was repeatedly criticised for failing to let leaders pass and holding people up on qualifying laps.

Jean Louis Schlesser

There must be a shrine to Schlesser somewhere near Monza. For at that track in 1988 while substituting for Nigel Mansell at Williams he blundered into the path of Ayrton Senna, knocking the Brazilian out of the race.

It let through the Ferrari duo of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto claim an emotional one-two at home, mere weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari, and the only non-Mclaren victory that year.

Jochen Mass

It’s one thing to take one of the leaders out of the race – it’s quite another when it’s your team mate.

That’s exactly what Mass did at Mosport in 1977 – taking James Hunt out of the running. Mass kept going and for several laps Hunt shook his fist at the German as he went by, before using it to thump a marshal.

Keke Rosberg

Rosberg’s driving manners were usually sound but what he did to Ayrton Senna in a rage during the 1985 European Grand Prix would surely earn a lengthy ban today.

Having spun out in a clash with Senna early into the race Rosberg ducked into the pits, emerging just metres in front of Senna, who had Rosberg’s team mate Nigel Mansell close behind.

Rosberg proceeded to carefully block Senna, allowing Mansell past, before turning up the turbo boost and scampering free of the pair of them. Mansell cruised home to take his first Grand Prix win…

Photo: LAT Photographic / Glenn Dunbar

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19 comments on Top ten… Most notorious backmarkers

  1. Paul said on 18th June 2009, 19:32

    I have vague recollections of being a kid watching Murray and James lay into Andrea De Cesaris for getting in the way and crashing a lot…I quote from San Marino 1990;
    “To say De Cesaris is incident prone is a mastery of understatement!”

    I have a hazy memory from 1991 (?) of ADC weaving crazily down the straight to prevent someone passing him. I am yet to find this on the internet but Id love to see it again.

  2. Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 4th September 2009, 15:12

    Yes, De Cesaris should be on the list…

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