Sometimes F1 receives mass media coverage for the wrong reasons
Technical infringements, poor driving and just plain bad Formula One etiquette—the sport has provided it all over the years.
This usually leads to a post-race penalty, or a rap on the knuckles if you're lucky, and sometimes there's a grid penalty for the next race waiting.
But then there are incidents which attract huge, huge repercussions. The kind that force teams or sponsors out of the sport altogether.
On the flip side, there are heinous incidents which deserve greater punishment than is dished out.
This list is not definitive (justice is a matter of perception and interpretation, after all) but covers 10 of the most controversial penalties the sport has delivered.
Have we missed anything? Get in touch in the comments below.
Schumacher has had a couple of Monaco penalties.
Michael Schumacher props up this list with two Monaco incidents.
The first occurred in 2006 when, in qualifying, he “hit” the barrier at Rascasse and stalled. That brought out the yellow flags and stopped anyone else (including title rival Fernando Alonso) improving on their best time.
However, after the session, the stewards ruled that Schumacher had parked the car deliberately to alter the result of the session, removed his times and forced him to start at the back of the grid.
It was controversial in less obvious ways than others, because justice had been done. The point of contention was that a championship challenger had been harshly punished. And not just any challenger, either; but the greatest driver in the sport’s history.
The other incident occurred four years later, during his comeback with Mercedes. As the safety car peeled into the pits on the final lap, Schumacher dived past Alonso and Antony Noughes corner.
Ferrari appealed, and Schumacher was given a 20-second penalty and dropped to 12th. It was a typical “intent vs. interpretation” of the rules, which could be understood to forbid any overtaking if the final lap is under the safety car—or allow it once the safety is in the pits.
With reigning world champion Niki Lauda starting his title defence with two wins and a second place in the opening three Grands Prix, the 1976 season was looking bleak for James Hunt and McLaren.
Hunt, who had suffered two DNFs in the first three races, duly bounced back with his first win of the year at Jarama.
He was the disqualified from the race after stewards found his McLaren to be too wide at the rear.
This was appealed by McLaren, who argued that had been down to the tyres expanding in the Spanish heat.
Two months and several rounds later, Hunt's win was reinstated—reigniting the title fight and leading to the now-enshrined-in-cinema battle between the two.
But it was so nearly very different.
Tyrell was the only team to use a naturally aspirated engine in 1984, as its rivals all adopted turbochargers.
Lead shots were seen being omitted from the top of the cars during races, and after an FIA investigation, it was revealed that the cars were having their tanks topped by two gallons of water and 140 pounds of lead shot.
They were hit with a trio of charges—illegal fuel, illegal fuel lines and illegal fitted ballast—and the team was disqualified from the world championship after being banned from the final three races.
They lost all championship points and, according to the Epic Formula 1 Blog, the additional subsidised travel benefits for the championship in the following year.
Aside from the harsh nature of the punishment, this was controversial for another reason. Other teams (notably Brabham and Williams) had found a clever but sneaky way of making the minimum weight prior to adopting the turbos.
By using water-cooled brakes, the car was filled with water to pass the weight test. How? Though the car would be lightweight throughout the race as water was dumped out, they were topped up with water later on and weighed at the end.
Because this, to the letter of the law, constituted original car fluids, it was allowed.
BAR arrived at Barcelona but was banned.
In 2005, I was a big BAR fan. I’ve lost any bias as I’ve (endeavoured to) become more professional, but I remember how the post-San Marino Grand Prix ruling hurt.
After a disappointing start to the season, Jenson Button bounced back with a podium at Imola. But there was a problem after the race.
Stewards found that the car had a second fuel tank (used illegally to add extra weight to the car) and the team was excluded from the results. But it didn’t stop there.
It was also seen fit to ban BAR from the next two races. It was such a shocking decision (in terms of pure surprise of how strict they were) that the team actually turned up to Barcelona expecting to race.
It did not compete, nor did it compete in Monaco. Lesson certainly learned.
In the 2010 German Grand Prix, everybody watching knew what was happening when Fernando Alonso took the lead.
The “cryptic” message from Ferrari to Felipe Massa, relayed live on the BBC, gave it away: “Felipe, Fernando is faster than you. Do you understand?”
Felipe did. He moved over, allowing an Alonso pass to take the win.
Why so controversial? Because team orders were banned at the time.
What was Ferrari’s punishment? A $100,000 fine, and the legalisation of team orders once again.
You might not think much of that, but this was a potentially world championship-altering move, and a blatant disregard of FIA regulations.
To let the team off so lightly and then reinstate the thing they were punished for seems a bit light-hearted.
Pirelli stayed in Barcelona for Mercedes' test.
When Pirelli and Mercedes remained in the F1 paddock after the conclusion of the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, you have to wonder why other teams didn't ask, "Why?"
As it was, Mercedes was helping Pirelli conduct tyre tests to evaluate options for 2014.
However, it also emerged that 2013 options were also tested (without, stressed Pirelli, any information being passed to Mercedes).
That, combined with the drivers using unmarked helmets, kicked up a massive stink with the other teams, who blasted Mercedes as cheats and claimed Pirelli crossed everyone else.
That's not exactly what happened, but F1 is a fickle business.
Both Pirelli and Mercedes were reprimanded, and Mercedes was also banned from the Silverstone Young Driver Test.
Sounds overly harsh? Not particularly. But it did cost them the chance to evaluate the new rubber that Pirelli would introduce halfway through the 2013 season.
The controversy lies in the leniency of the ruling. Many agree that Mercedes got off very, very lightly.
It’s the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Ayrton Senna is second, right behind teammate Alain Prost.
The Brazilian needs to pass the championship leader if he is to retain his world title, and under-braking for the final chicane, he makes his move, diving to the inside.
But, controversially, Prost turns in. The pair collide, Alessandro Nannini passes them both, and Prost is out on the spot.
Senna receives marshal assistance and resumes with a damaged nose. He pits for a replacement, but somehow manages to reel in the Benetton and win—claiming the title, in theory.
But, post-race, the FIA disqualify him for not rejoining the track where he left it (Senna had cut through the chicane after being pushed in that direction by marshals), and so Prost was champion.
The controversy is clear. Why was a world title allowed to be decided on such a decision? Because before the race, the FIA had stated drivers must rejoin the track where they left it. But Senna, and his rivals, had argued that it was dangerous to turn around and rejoin when there are a field of F1 cars entering a heavy braking zone. It could be disastrous.
Fingers were pointed at Jean-Marie Balestre, then-FIA president, and his shared nationality with the eventual champion. But make your own conclusions.
Massive penalties are always controversial, even if they are the right decision.
That’s the reasoning behind the inclusion of the lifetime banning of Renault F1’s Flavio Briatore (managing director) and Pat Symonds (director of engineering) after they orchestrated Nelson Piquet Jr.’s crash in Singapore to manipulate the race result.
It’s also included because of the way in which the bans were later overturned.
Any form of cheating needs to be hit hard, and it appeared as though the FIA had done just that, at first.
But after an appeal from each party, the bans were overturned and the two were offered compensation.
Then (another twist!) the FIA appealed the result of the appeal.
It was finally resolved when Symonds and Briatore agreed not work in F1 again until this season, with Symonds joining Williams.
Ah, Michael Schumacher. Welcome back to the list.
Replace “the list” with “the Formula One World Championship,” and you’ve got the FIA’s ruling on the controversial Schumacher/Jacques Villeneuve clash in 1997.
Despite Schumacher’s deliberate attempt to manipulate the result by cheating (he rammed into Villeneuve, who was leading the championship), the FIA decided that removing him from the championship standings (but keeping his points and statistics) was a sufficient punishment.
There was talk of him being banned for 1998, but the FIA said “no doing."
They justified it on the grounds that it would not act as a deterrent. Had Schumacher won the world title in ’97, they argue, he would probably have happily sat out the following year.
There’s a flaw there. Why not remove his points, disqualify him properly from the results…and ban him? That would be a deterrent, and then some.
McLaren was under fire already in Hungary.
The McLaren Spygate scandal brought both the team and the sport into disrepute.
The team was found guilty of stealing confidential data from rivals Ferrari, and the punishment was the largest ever seen in the sport.
They were stripped of their constructors’ points and made to finish last in the championship, losing any prize money as a result. To compound the financial misery, they were not so much slapped as roundhouse-kicked in the face with a £50 million fine.
The sheer magnitude of the punishment, not to mention the heinous nature of the fine, puts this incident above any other in F1.
Add to this the tumultuous Hungarian Grand Prix weekend in which the Lewis Hamilton/Fernando Alonso rivalry boiled over (the drivers blocked one another in qualifying, and the team was fined and punished by points deduction on that, too), and 2007 was an awful year for McLaren.
There are a trio of whopping fines for race organisers and team personnel that deserve their own list.
While B/R isn't quite going to give them that, we do feel it is worth separating them from the main list.
Ferrari feature in two of them, the first of which being the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Remember? The race Rubens Barrichello moved over at the last minute to let Michael Schumacher win.
After the race, Schumacher insisted the Brazilian stood on the top step alongside him. The result? A $1 million fine, half of which was suspended for a year and to be paid only if they contravened within that time.
A similar fine was handed out to Hungarian Grand Prix organisers after a Schumacher victory in 1998 inspired a mass track invasion. However, 75 percent of that was suspended and avoided.
Topping the lot is the $5 million fine Turkish Grand Prix organisers were hit with in 2006. The winner's trophy was presented by Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. Problem? In the eyes of the FIA, yes.
He was introduced as "President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." That's recognised only by Turkey.