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
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.
Crashing in the pits
Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen, 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 Räikkönen 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 Räikkönen’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.
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
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.
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
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
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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