Top ten… Weirdest F1 retirements

Hamilton harpooned Raikkonen's Ferrari in the Montreal pits in 2008

Hamilton harpooned Raikkonen's Ferrari in the Montreal pits in 2008

Greg - better known as Ned Flanders in the comments – makes his debut as an F1 Fanatic guest writer by picking ten of the oddest causes of driver retirements.

Retiring from a motor race is often an unremarkable experience for an F1 driver. Although reliability has improved hugely in recent years, the sight of a smoking car pulling off the track remains a routine one for F1 viewers.

But occasionally a race ending incident occurs which is rather more noteworthy. Some you may be familiar with – Lewis Hamilton?s pit lane exploits, for example- and others you may never have heard of – how about the driver who was soaked by his cockpit fire extinguisher mid race?

This is a collection of the some of the most embarrassing, frustrating and downright bizarre race retirements ever recorded in F1.

Lack of motivation

Damon Hill, 1999 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

Damon Hill ended his Grand Prix career in the most ignominious style possible at his final race in Japan in 1999. On lap 22, while running in 17th place, Hill damaged his front wing in a spin and headed to the pits. But instead of waiting for a nose change, he stepped out of the otherwise undamaged car for the final time, despondently claiming ??there was no point in going on?.

His team boss Eddie Jordan disagreed; the incident sparked a rift between the two which lasted for many years.

The extent of Hill?s disillusion with F1 had been long been apparent. By 1999, Hill was a shadow of the driver who had once challenged the likes of Prost and Schumacher, and while his team mate Heinz Harald Frentzen was challenging for the title Hill seldom progressed beyond the midfield.

At Suzuka, what was left of his already weak motivation finally disappeared. It was an unfortunate end to a remarkable F1 career.

Beached in the pit lane gravel trap

Lewis Hamilton, 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai

Another McLaren pit gamble didn't work out for Hamilton in 2007

Another McLaren pit gamble didn't work out for Hamilton in 2007

Lewis Hamilton’s first Grand Prix retirement came in the most frustrating and embarrassing circumstances imaginable.

At the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, while running on threadbare tyres as the team delayed a switch from wet to dry weather rubber, Hamilton?s McLaren understeered at snails pace into a tiny gravel trap in the pit lane entrance. He could have been forgiven for lamenting his luck – it was virtually the only gravel trap on a circuit surrounded by acres of tarmac run off.

After futile attempts first to accelerate out of the gravel and then to gain a push from the marshals, Hamilton conceded defeat and began the short walk of shame back to the McLaren garage. Little did he know that the points he had frittered away in the Shanghai pebbles would eventually cost him the championship.

Read more: 2007 Chinese Grand Prix review: Raikkonen win blows title race open

Crashing in the pits

Lewis Hamilton and Kimi R??ikk??nen, 2008 Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal

Hamilton?s pit lane demons came back to haunt him in Canada barely six months later. A safety car period early in the Canadian Grand Prix encouraged most cars to dive into the pits, and from a seven second lead Hamilton found himself staring at the gearboxes of rivals Kimi R??ikk??nen and Robert Kubica as he headed for the pit lane exit.

With hindsight he would have been better served observing the red light by the pit lane exit. He didn?t, and subsequently cannoned into the back of R??ikk??nen?s Ferrari, putting both out on the spot. The lost win, and the likely six points he was denied by his ten place grid penalty for the following race in France, almost cost him the title for a second consecutive season.

Read more: Controversy as Lewis Hamilton hits Kimi R??ikk??nen in pit lane

Stalling while waving to the crowd

Nigel Mansell, 1991 Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal

Nigel Mansell retired from the lead of the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with less than half a lap to go – of this there is no doubt. What is less clear, however, is what caused his car to stop just a few hundred metres from the flag, gifting victory to his nemesis Nelson Piquet.

Mansell and his team claimed that the gearbox in his Williams had failed coming out of the hairpin for the final time, causing him to stop. What Mansell declined to acknowledge was that he had been seen waving to the Canadian fans in a premature celebration just moments before his car ground to a halt. Cynics suggested he had in fact allowed the revs from his Renault engine to drop too low, causing the engine to stall.

Mansell refuted the criticism, calling his detractors ??idiotic? and ??pathetic?, and blamed the press for the creating rumours. Was Mansell genuinely blameless or was it a desperate attempt to cover his blushes? You decide.

Running over a loose drain

Juan Pablo Montoya, 2005 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai

A dislodged drain cover was responsible for Juan Pablo Montoya?s exit from the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix. Running slightly wide out of Turn 10, Montoya drove straight over the protruding metal grate, damaging his front right wheel beyond repair. The safety car was dispatched for several laps while marshals attempted to weld the grate shut. The incident effectively handed that year’s constructors’ championship to Renault.

Alarmingly, though, it was not the only time that the drainage had caused chaos at Shanghai. Just four months earlier, Australian V8 Supercar driver Mark Winterbottom came across a similarly dislodged drain cover which sliced through his car and could well have injured him. Thankfully, there have been no such incidents since.

Read more: 2005 Chinese Grand Prix Review

Burnt by the cockpit

Mark Webber, 2004 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

'Do I smell barbecue?'

'Do I smell barbecue?'

Mark Webber is renowned for coping with tough conditions in an F1 cockpit – recall his performance at Fuji in 2007 despite vomiting in his helmet. But at the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Webber was forced surrender to adversity, in this case an overheating cockpit.

The temperature of the driver?s seat inside the Jaguar had intensified throughout the race to the point where it was actually burning Webber. Though his mechanics attempted to cool him by throwing a bucket of water into the seat during a pit stop, the heat soon returned until the luckless Aussie finally decided he could take no more and withdrew. It had nevertheless been a valiant drive that typified Webber?s commitment, though presumably his rear end has never been quite the same.

Trapped nerve

Justin Wilson, 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang

The HANS device, which helps protect drivers from neck injuries in the event of a violent accident, met with some opposition when it was introduced in Formula 1. And with some good reason, as there were a few major problems to iron out as Justin Wilson discovered.

Racing in only his second Grand Prix Wilson was forced to withdraw 41 laps into the race after losing all feeling in his arms.

The injury was eventually attributed to an ill-fitted HANS device, which had been putting so much force on his shoulders that it caused a trapped nerve. Considering that racing in Malaysia is a major physical challenge at the best of times, Wilson did well to survive as many laps as he did

Pit lane crash

David Coulthard, 1995 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide

David Coulthard?s race-ending accident at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix was not only highly embarrassing but costly. In his final race for Williams, Coulthard was comfortably leading as he entered the pits for his first stop. Yet he did not slow enough for the tight pit lane entrance and understeered on the dusty surface into the pit wall.

After the race, Coulthard desperately tried to pin the blame for the accident onto his Renault engine, claiming he had been ??driven towards the wall? by the sudden acceleration of his Williams. But for all his denial?s the bottom line was that DC had thrown away a comfortable win with an amateurish mistake.

He wasn’t the only driver to be caught out by the slippery surface, though. Johnny Herbert abandoned an attempt to get into the pit lane and continued for another lap, while Roberto Moreno backed his Forti into the pit wall not far from where Coulthard crashed.

Crashing on purpose

Nelson Piquet Jnr, 2008 Singapore Grand Prix

Piquet's ability to crash an F1 car was never in doubt

Piquet's ability to crash an F1 car was never in doubt

Initially, Nelson Piquet Jnr’s race-ending accident at the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix seemed innocent enough. It appeared to be nothing more than another error by a much-maligned driver who was on his way out of F1. The rumours of the crash being part of a wider race fixing scandal were gradually extinguished, and the incident was soon forgotten.

Only in July of the following year did the shocking truth emerge. Piquet, it transpired, had been ordered by the Renault team management to crash his car in order to give his team mate Fernando Alonso an opportunity to win. Piquet did not dispute this request (undoubtedly influenced by the promise of a contract extension), backing his car into the wall at turn 17 just metres in front of a packed grandstand.

Never before in F1?s six decade history had a driver been forced by his own team to endanger his life (and the lives of spectators and marshals) by crashing intentionally. That the three known conspirators – Piquet Jnr, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds – are no longer in F1 indicates that the sport is no longer prepared to tolerate such behaviour. However, the inability of the FIA to successfully punish the trio, allied to the suggestion that others had knowledge of the plan (including a certain Ferrari driver), means that it is not inconceivable that similar schemes could be devised in the future.

Spanners jammed under brake pedal

Johnny Herbert, 1998 Italian Grand Prix, Monza 1998

At the 1998 Italian Grand Prix at Monza Johnny Herbert experienced a situation Toyota owners across the world currently live in fear of. His Sauber’s brake pedal jammed as he approached the high speed Lesmo corner, causing his car to slide off into the gravel.

To the millions of fans world wide watching on television the spin appeared simply to be a driving error, yet the hapless Herbert was not to blame. Incredibly, a mechanic had mistakenly left a spanner in the cockpit before the GP, which had worked its way into the footwell and became lodged beneath the brake pedal. Herbert was predictably unimpressed, labelling the mechanic responsible ??stupid?, and perhaps unsurprisingly he left the team just a few races later

Bonus blunders

It wasn’t easy to whittle this one down to a top ten. Here’s a few more that didn’t make the cut:

Running out of fuel
Jean Alesi, 1997 Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne

Jean Alesi is by no means the only driver to have run out of fuel in an F1 race, but ignoring his team’s instructions to pit for fuel was unprecedented. For several laps, his Benetton team desperately tried to remind the Frenchman that he needed to come back to the pits to refuel, yet he turned a blind eye to the pit boards and ignored all radio messages.

Inevitably, he coasted to a halt with an empty fuel tank on lap 35, leading ITV commentator Murray Walker to suggest that the Benetton mechanics would be ?ab-so-lute-ly furious!?

Michael Schumacher’s safety car woes
Michael Schumacher, 2005 Chinese Grand Prix and 2004 Monaco Grand Prix

What is it with Shanghai and driver retirements? The 2005 Chinese Grand Prix capped arguably the worst season of Michael Schumacher?s career. On lap 23, Schumacher lost control of his car going into turn six and spun his car into the gravel and into retirement. The spin alone was unbefitting of a seven-times world champion; the fact that it had occurred under the safety car made it even more embarrassing.

It wasn?t his day. Less than two hours earlier, while heading to the grid, the German had drifted carelessly into the path of Christijan Albers? quicker Minardi, causing a sizeable shunt which forced both men to start from the pit lane.

Schumacher?s mediocre run to 12th in his only previous Chinese GP was scarcely more impressive, leading many observers to suggest he had finally come across a bogey circuit. But Schumacher disproved this in some style in 2006, scoring his final win to date at the track.

It wasn’t his only altercation behind the safety car, however – in 2004 he emerged from the Monte-Carlo tunnel having crashed into the wall during a caution period.

Fire extinguisher explosion
Oliver Panis, 2004 British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Toyota?s hopes for success at the 2004 British Grand Prix were dampened quite literally when the fire extinguisher in Olivier Panis? cockpit suddenly and inexplicably went off, filling the car with foam and blinding the driver.

Fortunately Panis managed to bring the car to a halt in the gravel without making contact with the barriers or another car, but his final race at Silverstone was over.

Over to you

The incidents above represent ten of the most bizarre reasons for retirements I could think of, I?m sure there have been plenty more accidents or mechanical failures that I?m unaware of that have been stranger still.

So this is where you come in. If you know of any other odd retirements worth mentioning, let us know in the comments below.

This is a guest article by Ned Flanders. Want to try your hand at writing a guest article? Got a great idea for a top ten? Get in touch here..

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205 comments on Top ten… Weirdest F1 retirements

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  1. Pingguest said on 7th April 2010, 9:20

    Imola 1995 – Nigel Mansell retires because he finds the car ‘undrivable’.

    • jose said on 7th April 2010, 9:39

      imola 1991

      prost, spin and retirement on the formation lap. the videos on youtube

    • MigueLP said on 7th April 2010, 16:38

      hamilton on the back of raikkonen was one of the dirtiest things i´ve seen similar to schumacher stuff

      • Paper Tiger said on 7th April 2010, 16:52

        Idiotic? Undoubtedly. Intentionally depriving yourself of up to 16 points to take out a rival? I doubt it.

        • Matty55 said on 7th April 2010, 21:58

          That was clearly an accident. It was the middle of the championship he wouldn’t gain anything big by taking himself out as well

      • Eric M. said on 7th April 2010, 19:10

        You can’t seriously think that Hamilton did that on purpose?

      • bernification said on 9th April 2010, 10:23

        Yeah, Hamilton had Rosberg at his back, the 2 formed a pact, if I fail to get him, you follow me up.
        Funny how no one remembers that Rosberg did the same thing, isn’t it.

      • Henrik said on 11th April 2010, 17:11

        It is the most idiotic thing we have seen, but I don’t believe it was on purpose, his brain was just turned off.

        Paper Tiger:”Intentionally depriving yourself of up to 16 point” – 16 ponts!?! Come on, get real. Nobody knows how it would have ended, but I think Kimi or Kubica would have done it, not Lewis.

        • neilm said on 13th April 2010, 11:24

          No one ever mentions that Kimi couldn’t stop in time either, he had to pull to the side to avoid ?Kubica?

    • Tim said on 7th April 2010, 16:38

      It was Barcelona – Mansell’s last F1 race. He drove at Imola and finished out of the points.

  2. Vikas said on 7th April 2010, 9:26

    Nice article Ned… I liked it, well written :)

  3. Karan said on 7th April 2010, 9:33

    Great article Ned, I enjoyed reading it. Keep it up.

  4. Rubel_Frm_BD said on 7th April 2010, 9:41

    Very Good!!!!!!. Continue like this. But have to comment on hamilton, it seems to me that we can easily called him The Diseaster Man. He collied with more people than the number of his races. Hi hi ………….

    • Theoddkiwi said on 7th April 2010, 10:04

      I am sure Webber can give him a run for his money.

    • kbdavies said on 7th April 2010, 13:46

      The haters just have to come crawling out. This was supposed to be a lighthearted post, about the weirdest F! moments, not a “bash a driver” fest.
      Do tell, exactly how many people has Hamilton collided with?
      Btw it is spelt “disaster”.

      • Hami-fan said on 7th April 2010, 15:50

        kbdavies i do agree with your comment its silly when people take the opportunity to kick a man when down. btw great article ned :)

  5. Emmet said on 7th April 2010, 9:49

    Great article Ned, keep it up!

  6. loo9n said on 7th April 2010, 9:52

    Imola 2001.. Kimi’s steering wheel came off..
    Nurburgring 2005.. Kimi’s suspension exploded..
    He’s an unlucky guy isn’t he? :)
    Also JPM’s car was sliced through by the drain cover in China 2005 and he was lucky not to be injured..
    Gr8 article Ned :)

    • Gerdoner said on 7th April 2010, 10:37

      IIRC it was Kimi’s tyre that blew in 2005… leading to a “minor” suspension damage :P

      But I agree, great article Ned :)

      • PJA said on 7th April 2010, 11:25

        It was suspension failure that ended Raikkonens race at Nurburgring 2005 but the damage was caused by the tyre.

        Raikkonen badly flat spotted his right front while lapping Villeneuve, in 2005 drivers were not allowed to change tyres so those tyres had to last the whole race, if memory serves you could only change a damaged tyre not the whole set and not during a regular fuel stop.

        The flat spot caused significant vibrations and on the last lap at turn one under braking the suspension broke, and he narrowly avoided taking out Button who he was just coming up to lap.

        • That rule was ridiculous and dangerous, and possibily cost Raikkonnen the title that year.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th April 2010, 12:40

            As I recall the rule applied to all the other drivers as well…

            I don’t think the rule itself was dangerous – how many other incidents like Raikkonen’s did we see?

          • Diacho said on 7th April 2010, 14:02

            To add to Keith’s point, it was clear a few laps earlier that Kimi’s car was having problems because of the damaged tire.
            He would not have been penalised for entering the pits (and they could change the whole set, not just one tire – that would be even more dangerous). The thing is he would have lost the race to Alonso anyway, and so he and Dennis took a very gutsy decision to stay out.
            You’ve got to respect that.

        • Metallion said on 7th April 2010, 13:52

          Actually, up until Räikkönen’s incident, it was not allowed at all to change tires, not even a damaged one. After Kimi’s incident they made a change to the rules, allowing a driver to change a damaged tire. Which is probably why we didn’t see more incidents like that for the rest of the season.

          • Metallion said on 7th April 2010, 13:58

            A small adjustment to my previous comment after I’ve done some quick research. It was allowed to change punctured tires before the incident. After the incident it was also allowed to change a single tire per car if it was dangerously worn.

      • spinca said on 9th April 2010, 1:34

        Actually, he had flat-spotted the tire severely, causing tremendous vibration, which eventually caused the explosion of the upper suspension arm in a very high-speed section of the track. If you recall, it started deteriorating on the straight, and then it just “blew up” as soon as he touched the brakes.

  7. Sush Meerkat said on 7th April 2010, 10:04

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGaq_SeXTgI

    This is a fond one for me, not because of the circumstances but because of Ted Kravitz’ commentary on the sonic signature of each passing car.

    If you guys can find a vid with Kravitz explain the flat spots i’d appreciate it, I found it proper funny.

  8. Sumedh said on 7th April 2010, 10:05

    Great article Ned.

    Webber vomitted in his helmet at Fuji 2007. Didn’t know that.

    Which was the event at which Anthony Davidson retired by running over a groundhog?

  9. dcowlives said on 7th April 2010, 10:08

    Great article Ned, a like these light hearted takes on our great sport.

    How about Vettel and Webber, Fuji 2007?… Toro Rosso slams into the back of the Red Bull under the safety car when both in podium positions behind Hamilton.

    • Veeeight said on 7th April 2010, 12:28

      “How about Vettel and Webber, Fuji 2007?… Toro Rosso slams into the back of the Red Bull under the safety car when both in podium positions behind Hamilton.”

      I thought webbers comment in the paddock after that was gold! i assume it’s on youtube

      • Razer13 said on 7th April 2010, 15:59

        That was because the conditions behind the safety car were horrible and Hamilton was screwing around…not Vettel’s fault.

        • macahan said on 8th April 2010, 2:38

          some peoples take on this is that it wasn’t just Vettel he was cussing but Hamilton as well for Hamiltons erratic (more then normal) behavior behind the safety car. You can see it in part of the video he speeds up almost like he is to pass the safety car and slows way down. Webber referes to kidS and they in the “interview”

  10. Tim said on 7th April 2010, 10:09

    2005 Australian GP – BAR withdraw Jenson Button and Takuma Sato on the last lap of the race to exploit a loophole allowing them to fit fresh Honda engines for the next race in Malaysia. It did them little good – both cars retired with blown engines on lap 2.

    1995 Italian GP – Ferrari are running first and second at Monza when Gerhard Berger (running second) retires with broken front suspension after being hit by the on-board camera that had fallen off Jean Alesi’s car. Alesi subsequently retired with a wheel bearing failure.

    1987 Austalian GP – After 31 laps Stefano Modena pulls his Brabham into the pits and retires a healthy car. He was too tired to continue.

    1982 British GP – Derek Warwick’s retirement on lap 40 after running in second place is blamed by Toleman on a halfshaft failure. In reality, the car had started the race on low fuel to impress the sponsors.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th April 2010, 10:14

      Gerhard Berger (running second) retires with broken front suspension after being hit by the on-board camera that had fallen off Jean Alesi’s car.

      Thankfully it didn’t hit Alesi’s helmet. They weren’t as strong back then as the one Massa had last year.

  11. Dr Jones said on 7th April 2010, 10:11

    Alonso’s wheel came off after pitting for new tires during the 2009 Hungarian GP.

    • daykind said on 11th April 2010, 12:05

      Yes, that was a good one. Didn’t the FIA give Renault a ban which was then overturned for that incident? And wasn’t Alonso leading the race?

  12. David B said on 7th April 2010, 10:16

    I remember Patrese (Williams) with active suspension system off at Monza.
    The car was incredibly at wrong ground height, really dangerous. ’91 or ’92…?

    • Ilanin said on 7th April 2010, 11:06

      Unlikely to have been ’91, Williams didn’t run active suspension continuously until ’92.

  13. Peter said on 7th April 2010, 10:17

    How about Alex Caffi’s retirement from the 1989 USA Grand Prix in Phoenix? Caffi, a pre-qualifier in the first half of the season was running in a remarkable 5th place, after earlier being in 2nd place before a tyre stop, was crashed out of the race on lap 52 of 75 by none other than his own team mate Andrea de Crasheris ….. er ….de Cesaris. The notorious Andrea simply drove Caffi into the wall while passing him. What made it more unbelievable was that de Cesaris claimed he didn’t even see his team mate there.

    Another would be the great Ayrton Senna. After having dominated the 1988 Monaco GP almost from the 1st session of practice, was some 50+ seconds in front of McLaren team mate Alain Prost on lap 66 of 78 when he was advised by the team to ease off the pace as he was in no realistic danger of losing. He did so and lost concentration crashing into the barriers out of Portiers, losing a most deserving win to Prost. He disappeared into the depths of Monaco and McLaren didn’t even hear from him until the next day.

    • dcowlives said on 7th April 2010, 10:54

      Senna again at Monza ’88, the only race McLaren did not win that season.

      Taken out by Mansells stand in (he had a virus I think) Jean Louis Schlesser as Senna was trying to lap him and not being patient enough to wait until after the chicane.

      Beached embarrasingly on the kerbing, as the Ferraris went through for a one-two in front of the histerical Tifosi.

      • Peter said on 7th April 2010, 11:12

        I forgot about that one. Mansell was out with Chickenpox. Senna was running low on fuel and took the 1st chicane as if Schlesser wasn’t even there. He put himself under pressure by using too much fuel in the 1st half of the race to stay ahead of Prost. He had to seriously back off later in the race and let the Ferrari’s of Berger and Alboreto back to within 5 seconds and closing. Schlesser tried to give Senna room, slid under brakes when offline, caught it, turned in and found Senna taking the normal racing line. The collision caused Schlesser to be the most loved Frenchman in Italy during 1988.

        • theRoswellite said on 7th April 2010, 20:04

          @ Peter…nice description, isn’t there a little plaque, with Schlesser’s name, on the underside of the far right guardrail…hard to read.

          No one could concentrate like Senna, but then again on rare occasions he just seemed to remove himself from the reality of the moment.

  14. Great post Ned! Haha I remember Alesi running out of fuel ’ab-so-lute-ly furious!’ :D Classic Murray

  15. Owl said on 7th April 2010, 10:28

    ‘Hamilton’s pit lane demons came back to haunt him in Canada barely six months later’

    Shouldn’t that be 18 months later?

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