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..

F1 top tens

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205 comments on “Top ten… Weirdest F1 retirements”

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  1. 1992 Portugal – JJ Lehto was driving on the main straight while a driveshaft from Riccardo Patrese’s car (he had that huge crash with Berger) went through the floor and hit him between the legs.

  2. Stephen_P83
    7th April 2010, 17:59

    This isn’t F1, but there was a WTCC race last year where someone crashed heavily into the safety car. Does anyone remember which race that was or who was it that crashed?

    1. For some reason i think that was Pau, no idea about the driver

    2. Aha found it, Pau last year, Engstler was the driver. Heres the video:

      1. Ooh, safety car fail.

  3. Paul Gilbert
    7th April 2010, 18:38

    France 2007 – Christijan Albers left the pits with the fuel hose still attached, and was forced to retire shortly after rejoining the track.

  4. tralfamadore
    7th April 2010, 18:47

    This was not a retirement, but the Felipe Massa (Mafia sleeps) incident with the fuel hose at Singapore 2008 was pretty bizarre and cost him the championship. He had a comfy lead but came out last and yet had a drive through penalty, and finished 13th, far from the points. As everybody knows, Lewis Hamilton (The woman is ill) won the championship by a single point.

    1. Yes and Felipe blames the deliberate crash by Piquet for this, which in turn he blames (or blamed) Alonso for!

  5. Not strictly retirements, but some slightly bizzare non-starters,

    1962 South African GP – Sam Tingle in the Lotus-Climax was withdrawn because he ‘Competing Elsewhere’

    Monaco 1963 Lorenzo Bandini’s BRM was repossessed, and,

    Lella Lombardi’s Brabham-Ford was seized by Police before the 76 German GP

    1. Paul Gilbert
      7th April 2010, 22:21

      Another bizarre DNS was that of Otto Stuppacher in Italy 1976, when he was unable to start the race due to the fact that he had already returned home (he had initially failed to qualify, but 3 drivers were demoted to the back of the grid, thus allowing Stuppacher back into the race).

  6. Not F1, and probably fake, but this one always made me laugh hysterically:

    (May not be appropriate for younger viewers, by the way; I can’t say why because it would ruin it)

  7. Fisi in SMR 2005?

  8. Nice article Ned, um… Greg (blimey, never gonna get used to that). One of the weirdest for me was Schumacher at Silverstone in 1994. Black flags in F1 are a rare beast indeed, but Michael’s was a particularly odd one as he finished the race regardless. A very racy Michael had, persumably trying to get inside pole sitter Hill’s head, decided to overtake Damon on the parade lap, let the Williams driver back through, only to do the same again. Grid formed up normally, and following one aborted start, finally got under way with Hill holding Schumacher until lap 13 when the race stewards issued Schumacher a 5 second stop/go penalty for overtaking on the formation lap (remember, this was no accident, he did it twice). Schumacher ignored the stop/go while Benetton protested the matter until the stewards having finally had enough of descension issued Schumi with the black flag. Benetton assuming that honouring the original stop/go might be enough to allow them to ignore the black flag(!) brought Michael in for the 5 second stop, then sent him back out again. He may have been 2nd over the finish line, but he had definately had his race ended by an (ignored) black flag.

    He received a subsequent 2 race ban for ignoring the flag, but would go on to secure his first WDC crown in that year.

  9. A-Safieldin
    7th April 2010, 20:19

    You forgot one in 2006 in Japan where one of the midland drivers cant remember who, was braking for the last corner (the very one senna crashed prost in) and his car “exploded for no reason due to the cornering forces” the back of the car litterly blew to pieces as though some one had smashed into it and carbon fibre was flyin everywher…. I dunno i thought that was really bizzare

    1. Here it is:

      You’re right, really bizzare.

      1. Meh, just a half-shaft failure.

  10. John A Campbell
    7th April 2010, 20:36

    Monza 2000 – a young Jenson Button almost crashes under safety car conditions before succeeding on the restart!

  11. Paul Gilbert
    7th April 2010, 22:22

    Going back somewhat, in the 1969 Canadian GP, Al Pease was black-flagged for going too slow.

  12. Roger Carballo AKA Architrion
    7th April 2010, 22:25

    A brilliant article. Fantastic. Absolutely. As simple as that.

  13. Not weird, but rather sad. I am only posting this as of course this is the 42nd anniversary of the death of the greatest of them all.

    As a Canadian of Scots parents, and with nought but Scots neighbours, I was naturally inculcated from a very young age of the heroics of Scots sportsmen.

    As a wee boy, I used to zoom about the area in a peddle car that was BRG with the name ‘Clark’ on the side, and a wee shifter connected to a battery that made ‘zoom’ noises whenever I shifted.

    Me and my wee Jimmy Clark Lotus should blast up and down the sidewalks of Toronto, re-inforcing my Scottish pedigree until the day that my true (Canadian) hero, Gilles Villeneuve, brought pride
    and a national awareness to all of us New Canadians that were somewhere in the ether. That is, neither accepted by our parents, or other Brits, nor Canucks of longer standing.

    As young as I was, I still remember hearing the news of the death of Jim Clark (Having just returned from Scotland) and am still saddened on this day every year.


  14. i really enjoyed this article !!! congratulations!

  15. Crikey. Webber drives into one British driver and suddenly he has a history of driving into people. I think it’s more the other way around, from memory. Rubens Barrichello’s repeated assaults on him last year spring to mind.

  16. Whoops. Forgot the point of the article. I recall Coulthard flinging the car off the track during the formataion lap at Monza in 95, the year Frank Williams and Patrick Head treaded Hill and DC like ‘new bugs in school’ as the late, great Russell Bulgin put it.

    Raikkonnen (can never spell that right) retired from a race last year (Malaysia?) after the KERS tried to set him on fire (or was that in an earlier session?)

    This one isn’t a retirement, but in 94, Hill’s front suspension wasn’t properly connected to the front of the car and promptly fell off, rather comically, as he exited the pits, the wishbones and struts and things flailing about as the front wheels develeoped rather a lot of positive camber, shall we say. I think that was at Silverstone?

    I have a vague memory of Rubens Barrichello not pressing the right button or something at Ferrari and blowing something up, but that may have something to do with my natural dislike of him.

    1. Untitled258
      8th April 2010, 1:09

      Kimi was in Malaysia, but it was in practice when the KERs over heated and set the fire extinguisher off….. I think

      Or was it china? I think Malaysia though because when he was off eating his ice cream i remember hearing that the car had been put up on jacks with kers problems thats why he got the ice cream.

    2. There was another hilarious incident when Hill’s suspension failed in 1994, I just can’t remember which race.
      OK I’m trolling with this one.

  17. What about Massa retiring from Singapore 2008 after his team ordered him to leave the pits with the fuel rig stil attached… it wasn’t the only case, but the only I can remember when you couldn’t blame the driver…

    What about Vestappen’s Benneton catching fire during refuelling in Belgium 1994?

    What about Montoya being taken out while leading Brazil 2001 by a lapped Vestappen?

    1. tralfamadore
      8th April 2010, 17:54

      Yup, I commented on this one before, but it was not a retirement, Felipe baby stayed cool and finished 13th (he was 1st when he pitted). Instead of the lollipop the Ferrari team had a traffic light and it went green while the hose was still attached (human mistake I believe). Anyway, it was clearly not Felipe’s fault but he got a totally undeserved drive thru.

  18. What about Massa retiring from Singapore 2008 after his team ordered him to leave the pits with the fuel rig stil attached?… it wasn’t the only case, but the only I can remember when you couldn’t blame the driver…

    What about Vestappen’s Benneton catching fire during refuelling in Belgium 1994?

    What about Montoya being taken out while leading Brazil 2001 by a lapped Vestappen?

  19. Nice work Ned Flanders, but I think you may have missed Jenson Button Australia 2006 when his engine caught fire on the last lap on the penultimate corner & he failed to finish the race by meters!

    1. Yes nice work. Fun to read all the replies to that is the outcome of a great article that inspired..

      Button’s retirement Sounds like a great separate top 10. Top 10 almost race wins/finishes.

      Numerous already been mentioned in these replies. Button in 06 as you said, Massa in 08 in Hungary and many others close but not close enough all from wins.

      Drawing a blank right now but who was it that lifted of through first corner and down the straight already celebrating just to be passed. Gah. Going drive me nuts worse yet I ran across the video on youtube just a week or two ago.

  20. One I vaguely remember was in 1996 with Schumacher at Monte Carlo when a planetary gear (or alike) fell off his Ferrari.
    Was pretty unusual, even for that unreliable F1 car, to see that hardware falling off and trailing behind his car.
    (only from memory.. couldn’t find a video of it)

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