Top Ten: Pit lane blunders

Top Ten

The Malaysian Grand Prix witnessed the fastest pit stop of all time but also saw several high-profile blunders in the pits.

Lewis Hamilton pulled up at the pit box of former team McLaren, Jenson Button’s race was ruined by an error during a pit stop, both Force Indias retired due to problems with their wheel nuts, and Jean-Eric Vergne crashed into Charles Pic after his Toro Rosso crew released him too soon.

With precious seconds being won or lost in every pit stop and top teams on the verge of changing four wheels in less than two seconds, the potential for drama in the pits remains high. Here are ten of the most memorable pit lane blunders.

2007 Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s unexpected mid-race return to McLaren’s box at Sepang was not the first time he has dropped a clanger in the pit lane. The most memorable mistake of his 2007 rookie season came during an attempted pit stop at Shanghai.

The race began on a damp track and Hamilton romped off into the lead, on course for a victory that would have secured him the world championship with one round to spare.

But as the track dried and his intermediate tyres showed visible signs of wear, he and the team inexplicably postponed his pit stop for lap after lap. It was only after he lost 7.7 seconds to chasing team mate Fernando Alonso in a single tour that McLaren finally summoned him in.

By now his right-rear tyre was in a dreadful state and the left-hander on the way into the pits proved too much for it. The McLaren skidded into one of the Shanghai International Circuit’s few gravel traps and got stuck. This was the moment Hamilton’s title hopes began to unravel.

2008 Canadian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2008The following year Hamilton was in trouble in the pits again. He led the early stages of the Canadian Grand Prix until Adrian Sutil’s Force India broke down, bringing out the safety car.

The field piled into the pits en masse but a sluggish McLaren pit stop saw Hamilton lose out to Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen. With the pit lane exit light glowing red the pair came to a stop before returning to the track.

But Hamilton failed to see the signal and, swerving left to avoid the BMW, ploughed into Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Behind him Nico Rosberg made the same mistake and nerfed the McLaren. Kubica emerged unscathed and went on to win the race.

1994 German Grand Prix

Jos Verstappen

When in-race refuelling was reintroduced to Formula One in 1994 the potential dangers were well-known. Other series which permitted in-race refuelling had experienced horrific fires, such as at the 1981 Indianapolis 500 and the 1985 World Sportscar Championship race at Hockenheim.

In an attempt to alleviate the dangers, F1 refuelling rigs were designed to prevent fuel escaping once the nozzle was decoupled from the car. But such a failure saw Hockenheim witness another serious fire nine years later, this time during the German Grand Prix.

On lap 15 as Simon Morley pulled the refuelling nozzle from Jos Verstappen’s Benetton B194 fuel sprayed out over the car, driver and several mechanics. It ignited and the car erupted in flames.

Although it was quickly extinguished several mechanics suffered burns. Morley was the worst affected as fuel sprayed inside his helmet before catching fire. Verstappen and four other members of the crew were also injured.

Another of those involved in the fire was Paul Seaby, who is still with the team (now Lotus) as their race manager, and has a picture of himself engulfed in flames as his Twitter avatar.

The FIA later claimed Benetton had removed a filter from their rigs which had allowed a “foreign body” to jam the fuel valve open. It was another in a series of controversies which dogged the team in 1994.

2011 Hungarian Grand Prix

Jerome d’Ambrosio

Jerome d’Ambrosio was a rather anonymous presence during his brief F1 career, but he will at least be remembered for his unprecedented pit lane spin at the Hungaroring in 2011.

A mid-race shower had left the pit lane slippery, and as d’Ambrosio attempted to turn into his box he lost control of his car, sending his Virgin mechanics fleeing as he slid towards the garages.

Fortunately the car came to a halt without making contact with man or machine, but the hair-raising incident did little to endear d’Ambrosio to the team. He was replaced by Charles Pic at the end of the season.

1999 European Grand Prix

Eddie Irvine

The Nurburgring weather ran true to form in 1999, occasional rain shoes keeping drivers and teams on their toes. Eddie Irvine was heading for the pits early on lap 22 to switch to wet weather tyres when he radioed his team to request another set of dries.

The flummoxed Ferrari crew dashed back out of the pits with the requested tyres – but only three of them. An age seemed to pass before the missing right-rear was located, and there was a further hold up while the crew decided whether it was the correct one.

Irvine was stationary for almost half a minute, his race ruined. Fortunately championship rival Mika Hakkinen had also made an incorrect tyre call and was unable to capitalise on the antics at Ferrari.

1989 and 1991 Portuguese Grands Prix

Nigel Mansell

When Jenson Button was sent from his pit box too soon during the Malaysian Grand Prix he had the presence of mind to sit and wait for his mechanics to pull him back instead of selecting reverse and doing it himself.

If Nigel Mansell had done that at Portugal in 1989 he’d have saved himself a lot of bother. Instead, having overshot his pit box at the Estoril track he reversed back himself and was shown the black flag shortly afterwards.

By now Mansell was on Ayrton Senna’s tail and poised to make a move for the lead. The Ferrari driver eventually made his move at the first corner where the pair tangled and spun off. He claimed he hadn’t seen the black flag and the stewards banned him from the next race.

Mansell’s Portuguese pit woes struck again two years later. This time, his wheel came loose seconds after pitting, and his mechanics reattached it in the middle of the pit lane. This was against the regulations, and once again he was disqualified.

Mansell had a love-hate relationship with the Estoril circuit. Despite these two dramas, the second of which harpooned his chances of claiming the 1991 drivers’ championship, he also claimed three wins at the Portuguese track.

2008 Singapore Grand Prix

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Singapore, 2008One charge that has been levelled at Ferrari in recent years is that they have lost the ability to innovate. But they led the way in developing the pit stop traffic lights which are now widely used.

The thinking was that the lights would shave tenths off each stop their cars made – and to be fair they usually did. But in the refuelling era a calamity always seemed inevitable, and so it proved.

Disaster struck at the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix when race leader Felipe Massa, pitting under the safety car following Nelson Piquet’s infamous deliberate crash, was given a green light before the fuel hose had been disengaged.

Massa drove off, tearing the hose from the garage and dragging it to the far end of the pit lane. His mechanics eventually removed it and the Ferrari returned to the race, but a potential ten points had been lost and serious damage to Massa’s championship hopes had been done.

Massa isn’t the only driver to have headed for the pit exit with the refuelling hose still attached to his car. Christijan Albers did likewise at Magny-Cours in 2007. This error was largely his own doing and he was shown the door after one more race for the Spyker team.

2009 Brazilian Grand Prix

Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen

The penultimate race before the ban on in-race refuelling brought another reminder of its dangers. Heikki Kovalainen made an early stop during the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, but like Massa at Singapore the year before he was released before the pit crew had finished refuelling and drove off down the pit lane with the hose still attached to the car.

Following close behind Kovalainen was his Kimi Raikkonen, who was doused in fuel spraying from the severed hose. The fuel entered his helmet through an open visor, temporarily blinding him, and ignited on the Ferrari’s hot bodywork, briefly engulfing the car in flames. Despite this, the Ferrari driver heroically fought his way back though the field to finish sixth.

2010 Hungarian Grand Prix

Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil and Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2010Few races can rival the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix for pit lane carnage. An early safety car sent most of the field scuttling into the pits at once, and in the ensuing frenzy Robert Kubica was released from his stop straight into the path of Adrian Sutil, who was coming in for his.

Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg’s right rear wheel, which had been incorrectly fastened to his car, made a bid for freedom following his own stop. The wheel careered down the pit lane and straight towards the Williams pit crew, and although one mechanic was hit in the chest he escaped serious injury.

Sutil was out on the spot; Rosberg made it to the end of the pit lane before calling it a day, and Kubica managed only a few more laps before he too was forced to retire.

At the same circuit 12 months earlier Fernando Alonso had been sent from the pits with a wheel improperly attached, which then fell off. The stewards reacted by banning Renault from the next race – Alonso’s home Grand Prix at Valencia – but later overturned the decision.

1995 Australian Grand Prix

David Coulthard

David Coulthard threw away a probable victory on his final appearance for Williams by crashing on his way into the pits during the 1995 Australian Grand Prix.

He was only the most high-profile driver to be claimed by a slippery pit lane entrance on F1’s last visit to the Adelaide circuit. Johnny Herbert and Roberto Moreno were also caught out while making their own pit stops later in the race.

Over to you

Although many of the incidents described above verged on the comic, other pit lane incidents in the past have proved tragic, and have intentionally been omitted.

Share your recollections of past pit lane gaffes in the comments.

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63 comments on Top Ten: Pit lane blunders

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  1. I was flying to New York while the 2007 Chinese GP was taking place. I still remember reading, amaizined, on a tiny column in the newspaper that Raikkonen had won, and Hamilton had retired, and no further explanation.

    I didn’t have internet back then, I was on holidays, it took me 2 weeks to see what had happened and that was after the Brazilian GP.

    It still amaizes me how a team can make such a huge, huge, huge mistake with a championship about to be won.

    • josephrobert said on 8th April 2013, 17:58

      I was staying at my grandparents and slept on the floor near the TV in order to watch it.

      It was so bad, you could see the tyre was more worn out then a normal tyre, and I shouted put now, then he did another lap, and the next time round I shouted to pit…. and he went round again.

      Too many cooks, no one man enough to make a decision. Its hard and frustrating to try and support a team who do things like that.

    • graham228221 said on 8th April 2013, 19:31

      First race I ever watched! (Due to my 1 year old waking at 4am and refusing to go back to sleep)

      Watched every race since – so thanks Oscar (but don’t wake up that early again).

    • The root of the problem was that Hamilton wasn’t careful enough going into the pit lane. Even when the tyres are down to the canvas, it’s down to the driver to keep it on the road.

      Ironically his first real “rookie” error in what had been a decidedly un-rookie-like debut season up to that point.

  2. Tilke keeps making his pit lanes wider and wider with every new track. Seems to me what he needs to be doing is making them longer and longer, with a larger distance between each team’s pit crews!

  3. A few I remember off the top of my head:
    1. Jenson Button pitting at Red Bull by accident (China 2011)
    2. Gerhard Berger losing control at pit exit and crashing – on the other side of the track (Portugal 1993)
    3. Nick Heidfeld getting sent out with a loose wheelnut EVEN AFTER the Toyota mechanic next door told them it hd fallen off (Spain 2007)
    4. Esteban Tuero just getting… stuck. In the pitstop. Just epic. Just watch this to see what I mean:

    • Ned Flanders said on 8th April 2013, 17:22

      I particularly liked how the right front wheel ended up on the left side of the car. Good ol’ Minardi

    • safeeuropeanhome said on 8th April 2013, 19:13

      I remember seeing that Berger crash on a compilation of crashes on one of the old season reviews. He was so lucky he didn’t T-bone the car behind him on the way out, would have been an absolutely enormous crash. For those who haven’t seen it

    • Pennyroyal tea said on 9th April 2013, 2:45

      Weren’t Berger’s problems related to his Ferraris ride height?

  4. Magnificent Geoffrey said on 8th April 2013, 12:56

    Great article, Greg!

    I still think Mansell’s blunder was the silliest.

  5. A few I remember off the top of my head:
    1. Jenson Button pitting at Red Bull by accident (China 2011)
    2. Gerhard Berger losing control at pit exit and crashing – on the other side of the track (Portugal 1993)
    3. Nick Heidfeld getting sent out with a loose wheelnut even after the Toyota mechanic next door told them it had fallen off (Spain 2007)
    4. Esteban Tuero just getting… stuck. In the pitstop. Just epic. Just watch this to see what I mean:

    • magm13 said on 8th April 2013, 17:58

      Ha Ha great video of Esteban! I forgot about that one. And the one of Berger is indeed one if the most unexpected.

      • magm13 said on 8th April 2013, 18:06

        And seeing Esteban, I can’t stop thinking that Caterham and Marussia may be the slowest teams in this F1-era, but their professionalism are really standing out by comparison!

  6. f199player said on 8th April 2013, 13:02

    Got some good ones
    Canada 1989:
    Mansell and Nannini pit on the formation lap of dry tyres and then left the pits before the race started and both got black flagged, later on in the same race Johansson pits and drags the airlines off whilst leaving the pits and drives for several laps, got black flagged and ignored the flag and got disqualified.

  7. funocsi said on 8th April 2013, 13:03

    I really liked Hamilton’s pit stop at the 2012 Indian GP, when they changed five wheels for him including the steering wheel in 3.3 seconds :)

  8. Hotbottoms said on 8th April 2013, 13:14

    Great article! That 1999 European Grand Prix incident is probably my favorite one and we still use to joke about it in my family. It just seems so silly from today’s perspective that a top team would forget a tyre. I remember that at the time there were even conspiracy theories about Ferrari blundering his pit stop on purpose.

    • Ned Flanders said on 8th April 2013, 14:03

      Hmm… I’ve certainly heard the one about Schumacher letting Hakkinen win at Suzuka, allegedly because he wanted to be the one to end Ferrari’s drivers title drought…

      • Robbie said on 8th April 2013, 19:40

        Personally, I believe the conspirists. They weren’t going to have paid all that money to MS and contracted him a subservient teammate only to have said subservient have the glory and end the long-standing WDC drought at Ferrari. And it wasn’t MS deciding on his own that he wanted to be the one to end Ferrari’s drought…the whole mega-deal to move him and his crew from Benetton where he was winning, to Ferrari where they hadn’t won a WDC in 16 years, was so that he could be F1’s new icon post-Senna, and end the Ferrari WDC drought and lift them out of the ashes once Max and Bernie decided a new chapter was needed after Senna died.

    • HoHum said on 8th April 2013, 14:42

      But Ferraris’ inventiveness is highlighted by those “rain shoes” that keep the crew on their toes, no doubt to avoid pitcrew aquaplaning onto the pitlane.

      • BasCB said on 8th April 2013, 21:33

        Yes that added a bit of extra comedy for me as well @hohum, that was a great invention by Ferrari. Shame they were still missing one of a set though :-)

    • caci99 said on 8th April 2013, 17:08

      That was one hilarious and I will never forget that. On that time I was working for an Italian company, and the next day I was on the phone discussing with my counterpart in Italy about a missing accessory. At the end, joking, I said, what can you expect, even Ferrari forgot the car runs on four tyres :).

  9. thatscienceguy said on 8th April 2013, 13:14

    Coulthard not making the turn in Adelaide is a personal favourite.

  10. AdrianMorse said on 8th April 2013, 13:30

    @wsrgo, @keithcollantine, I believe the Albers incident was at the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, one race before Silverstone.

  11. sumedh said on 8th April 2013, 13:49

    Force India in the recent Malaysian Grand Prix are definitely a candidate for this article :-)

  12. LexBlair said on 8th April 2013, 13:51

    2006 San Marino
    Jenson Button

    “I like the way how the lollipop man rotates the lollipop so it’s effectively a guillotine as Jenson is accelerating”

  13. Not surprised to see a Mercedes exit the pitlane with a wheel missing tbh.

  14. Toro Stevo said on 8th April 2013, 14:37

    Not memorable in a good way, but Yamamoto’s stop at Monza a few years ago, where he took out .

    Also Schumacher overshooting where to stop, slightly

  15. montreal95 said on 8th April 2013, 14:37

    Great article, Greg!

    Regarding other incidents, does Alesi at Monza 1994 qualify? I’d almost broken my TV in frustration

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