Top ten… Weirdest F1 retirements

Posted on | Author Greg Morland

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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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 ?óÔé¼?£there was no point in going on?óÔé¼Ôäó.

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

The extent of Hill?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?â?ñikk?â?Ânen, 2008 Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal

Hamilton?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?â?ñikk?â?Ânen 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?óÔé¼Ôäót, and subsequently cannoned into the back of R?â?ñikk?â?Ânen?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?â?ñikk?â?Ânen 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 ?óÔé¼?£idiotic?óÔé¼Ôäó and ?óÔé¼?£pathetic?óÔé¼Ôäó, 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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 One. 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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 ?óÔé¼?£driven towards the wall?óÔé¼Ôäó by the sudden acceleration of his Williams. But for all his denial?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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 ?óÔé¼?£stupid?óÔé¼Ôäó, 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 ?óÔé¼Ôäóab-so-lute-ly furious!?óÔé¼Ôäó

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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäót his day. Less than two hours earlier, while heading to the grid, the German had drifted carelessly into the path of Christijan Albers?óÔé¼Ôäó quicker Minardi, causing a sizeable shunt which forced both men to start from the pit lane.

Schumacher?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós hopes for success at the 2004 British Grand Prix were dampened quite literally when the fire extinguisher in Olivier Panis?óÔé¼Ôäó 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?óÔé¼Ôäóm sure there have been plenty more accidents or mechanical failures that I?óÔé¼Ôäóm 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. No, no , no! Totally disagree. Formula1 is 60 years old, these wre top10 weirdest retirements only from last 20 years. I was hoping for more…

  2. Great selection Ned. I’m glad pictures of the 2007 and 2008 cars were included, we should all be reminded of how ugly aero-dominated cars become ;-)

    I would also include in the list Didier Pironi, Andrea de Cesaris, and Derek Daly, who all retired from the lead of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix shortly after having been given it by someone else’s misfortunes (ironically the first to lose the lead, Nelson Piquet, didn’t retire and came back to win the race after everyone who’d passed him failed before the line!).

    1. It was Patrese who won – here’s the video of the last laps. Extraordinary.

      1. Yeh, I got confused because there were both in a Brabham (though using different engines, I’ve just found out).

        Even worse is I had the commentary in my head and still wrote “Piquet”!

    2. I think that’s a very bizarre race finish, but no retirements were weird, so it doesn’t count. Thanks for reminding us though! Patrese did win 5 other races after that, but that was his first win!

  3. It was Patrese, actually. He crossed the line and didn’t even know he was the winner.
    I remember that everytime the TV director searched for the new leader he found a slowing and retiring car…

  4. Ooooh, so that’s why Panis retired at Silverstone in 2004. I have a photo of that, as I was sitting just after Stowe, where his car came to a halt in front of us.


    Video of Coulthard’s crash. Worth watching just to hear the commentator (John Watson) going nuts.

  6. Nice article, Ned. Good reading!

    1. I didn’t see the stalled car until Raikkonen crashed into it. So I don’t know how he would have seen it.

    2. Hardly embarrassing, he was completely unsighted and very lucky it wasn’t much worse accident

    3. Agree, that was pretty weird. He did have a waving yellow to warn him too.

  7. Good job Ned. You’ve clearly done well just by the amoutn of comments. Love the writing style as well which at times was quite humorous as the examples (some are very well remembered).
    Love these guest articles Keith. Of course yours are superb but they are refreshing.
    Not the weirdest retirement but the reactions after were hilarious was when Piquet and Salzaar came together.

    1. ‘And take that! My goodness!’

      I love Murray Walker. A shame he doesn’t appear to be on the BBC team this year.

  8. Untitled258
    7th April 2010, 15:13

    Not a retirement, but hiedfeld hitting the wall in the BMW Pit Lane park in germany, it makes me lol.

    When i went to the one at the trafford centre, the guy, who ever it was who was doing the driving then lost the back end and very very nearly went backwards into the armco barrier.

  9. 2006 – Australia – Montoya going wide over the curb at the last corner, and even though he managed to keep the car on the track, it automatically shutdown itself (not sure if it was a bug or a feature): . Michael Schumacher also retired after a crash at the same corner.
    Montoya also had a spin during the formation lap of this race, but was allowed to retake his position after Fisichella had stalled on the grid, forcing another formation lap:
    Button also retired from this race in a spectacular manner, when his engine blew up in the last corner of the race while in 5th position. He then deliberately stopped the car, giving up a points finish, to not be penalized in the next race for an engine change:

    1. Yes the Montoya 2006 Aus retirement was weird, I believe the car went into some sort of protection program, I don’t think the real reason ever came out. The official reason for retirement was “Electrical” ( ). I’d put it down to lack of motivation.

  10. 2005 – Belgium – Montoya retired from second place with 4 laps to go, having been hit by Antonio Pizzonia, who was trying to unlap himself after pitting for dry tires on the drying track:

    2006 – Spain – Montoya retired after losing control and getting stuck on a curb: . Was it a driver error or did his traction control fail?

    1. If we are talking about a retirement due to a collision with a back marker, the first that springs to my mind is Montoya again, this time at the 2001 Brazilian GP, when he looked set to win in only his third race in F1.

      Montoya was comfortably leading after earlier making a great overtake on Michael Schumacher, but as he was lapping Verstappen the Arrows went into the back of Montoya’s Williams taking them both out.

      This was one of the incidents which led Williams to put the message ‘Keep Your Distance’ on the back of their rear wing during practice at a later GP.

  11. One thing I remember as an odd retirement is Gerhard Berger’s crash coming out of the pit lane after a tyre change at Estoril 1993. His car careened left and across the track right at pitlane exit, crashing and ending his race. As far as I recall, some sort of active suspension malfunction was at least rumoured to be the cause at the time.

    1. The active suspension reset itself over a bump in the pitlane.

      1. Did the system get fooled into thinking it was on another part of the circuit?

  12. Boston F1 Fan
    7th April 2010, 15:40

    – I believe that Jenson Button also ran out of fuel at the end of the 2008 Brazilian GP.

  13. Didn’t the Schumacher Monaco tunnel incident also involve Montoya? He was warming his tires in a dramatic stop-start fashion and Montoya ran into him.

    Montoya features in a lot of these. For this subgenre lets add him getting hit from behind by Verstappen in Brazil after lapping the Dutchman.

  14. Younger Hamilton
    7th April 2010, 16:19

    what about Alonso’s Monaco 04 crash,tried to lap the Williams of ralf schumacher in the tunnel went around the outside of him,and the outside part of the tunnel was very dirty.Alonso then had overtsteer and went into the barriers after put his middle finger to Ralf when Ralf went passed.

    Anyone wants to see the video there’s the link below:

    1. That one’s a classic. Still, just an inexperienced move by Alonso, nobody tries overtaking in the tunnel at Monaco.

      1. I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to overtake in the tunnel because of the changing light conditions.

  15. What about Lauda retiring at Fuji 1976 because it was too dangerous ?

  16. inc0mmunicado
    7th April 2010, 17:02

    How about ’09 Australia? Vettel and Kubica collide while in podium positions. But they keep going. In the ensuing race between them, they both go off again two corners later, separately. Safety car comes out–Vettel tries driving on 3 wheels with the 4th parked on his nose for three laps but then gives up. He cries like a baby over the radio and Kubica claims he could have beat Button to the win!

  17. 2006 Australia – Montoya runs over the kerb, slides heavily and the system switches the engine off.

    2001 Japan – Eddie Irvine pitted, but the fuel rig was not working so he didn’t get any fuel. He drove another lap around the circuit but the problem was still there so he retired from the race. When his team-mate de la Rosa pitted some laps later, the problem had disappeared.

    1. I commented on the 2006 Australia incident above. I believe the engine actually went into “preservation” mode, very poor performance, so Monty found it didn’t accelerate very well, assumed it was broken and retired immediately. He could have just pressed a few buttons to fix it too.
      Monty had an extremely poor attitude at that stage.

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