If we’re absolutely honest, one of the reasons that motorsports, in this case Formula One, is so compelling, is the possibility that it can all go wrong, and end in a spectacular shower of car parts and shattered carbon fibre.
It’s certainly not the main reason that we watch, but the adrenaline hit that comes from being a witness to these incidents is undeniable.
It is an uncomfortable feeling; you’re simultaneously horrified, but unable to look away. If you have a conscience, you may even feel a little embarrassed by your reaction.
No one in their right minds wants to see people killed or injured. If you’re looking for that here, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The last moments of someone’s life should never be used as light entertainment, even if there is a huge market for it.
Every driver in the following incidents returned to racing—not always immediately, it has to be said—and continued their career, but in the meantime they had contributed to some of the sport’s most memorable moments.
While it’s one thing for a car to go to pieces after a collision, it is an entirely different proposition when everything collapses as a result of simply hitting the brakes.
Poor Sebastien Buemi was reduced to a hapless passenger when his front suspension—on both sides—spectacularly failed as he braked for a corner in China.
Despite not having any front wheels, Buemi continued to try to steer the car—without much success—right up until it stopped moving.
Although it isn’t a crash, Verstappen's pit lane fire is one of the most horrifying and memorable of F1 images.
As the team disconnected the hose from the car after re-fuelling, fuel splashed onto the car and immediately erupted into massive fireball.
While there were grave fears for Verstappen’s life, he emerged from the inferno with only a small burn on his nose.
The fuel rigs were modified to prevent it from happening again.
Felipe Massa’s high speed crash during practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix was initially a complete mystery.
It was only after the footage was analysed from his car that it became apparent that Massa had been hit in the helmet by a spring that had come loose from compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car.
Massa was knocked unconscious by the impact, and collided heavily with a tyre barrier.
While he has returned to racing in 2010, he was forced to miss the remainder of 2009 with serious head injuries. He was actually lucky to survive both the initial impact of the spring and then the wall.
Some drivers are destined never to make a splash in the F1 scene. Christian Fittipaldi was one such driver.
In a short career with F1 minnows Minardi, Fittipaldi had managed to scrape together a handful of points, but was destined to be consigned to the F1 scrapheap at the end of the 1993 season.
Before he left, however, he managed to do something to guarantee he would be on F1 highlight reels for decades to come.
In the closing stages of the Italian Grand Prix, Fittipaldi managed to clip the wheel of his teammate in a desperate overtaking move. His car was launched into the air, did a back flip, landed on its wheels, and crossed the finish line to secure eighth place.
It was a very ordinary piece of driving, but at least it was memorable.
Four doesn't go into one.
Well, it does…but you end up with fractions, and that’s exactly what happened in Brazil in 1994.
Irvine and Verstappen were rapidly closing on Bernard, and both moved to overtake.
Irvine pushed Verstappen off the track, his car snapped right, and took out both the instigator—Irvine—Bernard and the unfortunate Martin Brundle, who was quietly minding his own business and who looks like he gets a nasty whack on the noggin from a Bennetton rear wheel.
Verstappen was airborne and did a mid-air flip—exercising his penchant for the spectacular—before landing the car and sliding off into the grass.
Watching the drivers closely and particularly the way that their heads were thrown about by the impact, you can’t help feeling that being an F1 chiropractor must be a very lucrative business.
There aren’t many races at Monaco that pass without incidents or crashes of some kind.
Given the nature of the circuit, with its tight layout and no run-off area, very few incidents end well, and often lead to spectacular exits for drivers and cars alike.
1985 was no exception, and when Ricardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet came together after an injudicious overtaking attempt by Piquet, it ended in two very wrecked cars and a large gout of flame.
The two slid into the tyre walls at the Sainte Devote corner.
Refreshingly, Patrese leaped out of his car and ran over to Piquet—not to remonstrate, but to check that his fellow driver was all right.
While neither looked particularly thrilled to be walking, the matter was settled with a genuine handshake.
Anyone can crash an F1 car; there isn’t a driver alive who hasn’t done it.
It takes real skill to take out half of the field with you.
David Coulthard managed to do it in the very wet 1998 Belgian GP. After rounding Spa’s La Source hairpin and heading to Eau Rouge, Coulthard managed to drop a wheel on a metal drain, which flicked him across the traffic, taking out 12 other drivers in addition to himself.
Footage from the accident shows half a dozen wheels from miscellaneous cars rolling excitedly down the hill towards Eau Rouge, as if determined to continue the race unencumbered by idiot drivers.
It was a fairly inauspicious race for DC as he managed to get in yet another tangle after the race was restarted. Coulthard was about to be lapped by Michael Schumacher when he lifted on the straight and was slammed into by Schumacher, who claimed he couldn’t see the Scotsman in the spray.
The footage of him storming down pit lane to confront Coulthard is amongst the funniest things that F1 has ever thrown up.
Word of caution for Schumi: Never pick a fight with either a Scotsman or a guy with a jaw like a cartoon superhero—Coulthard’s both.
Ralf Schumacher could have gotten a lifelong sponsorship from Red Bull after his Williams BMW decided to take to the air and go for a piggy-back ride on Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari heading in to the first corner in Melbourne.
While Ralf’s exit was the most spectacular, a total of eight drivers were eliminated in the chaos.
The drivers, being eternal optimists, all raced back to the pits to try to get the spare cars out for a restart, however, the combination of super-efficient marshals and the safety cars kept the race going, so no restart was required.
If the name Philippe Alliot isn’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. Even though he drove in 109 F1 races, he only troubled the scorers on six occasions.
Alliot developed a reputation for crashing, leading James Hunt, a man not known to mince his words, to describe him as “one of the worst Grand Prix drivers ever to drive a Grand Prix car.”
While that may or may not be true, he makes this list as one of the most spectacular crashers of all time.
Robert Kubica’s spectacular crash looked for all the world like it would have been impossible to survive.
His BMW Sauber hit the barrier at over 300km/h and was converted from a car to a canoe. The impact had a peak G-force of 75g, well beyond what the human body is normally capable of absorbing.
It speaks volumes for the changes to car design and constant efforts to improve driver safety that came about in the wake of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna.
Remarkably, Kubica missed only one race, and that was as a precaution. With his luck running like that, let’s hope he bought a lottery ticket.
Getting burned alive would be one of most people’s greatest fears.
The mere thought of being strapped in a wrecked car that is engulfed in flames is the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately, most of us will never have to face that situation in real life.
Gerhard Berger, however, was not so lucky.
In the 1989 San Marino GP, Berger left the track at the infamous Tamburello corner—the one where Senna lost his life—and slammed into the wall at high speed. His car almost instantly burst into flames.
Thanks to the quick work of fire marshals and the innovation that feeds cool, clean air into the drivers helmet in a fire situation, Berger escaped with only nasty burns to his hands. He returned to racing after missing only one race.
Because of the events that followed, few people remember that Rubens Barrichello was very close to being the third fatality on that terrible weekend in 1994—the one that claimed the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna.
In practice, Barrichello left the track after hitting a kerb at around 225km/h and flew horizontally into the fence, clipping only the top of the tyre barrier and being stopped by the safety fence. It was one of those heart-stopping moments.
Barrichello was knocked unconscious and had swallowed his tongue.
Were it not for the timely intervention of the medical team, he would have almost certainly not survived. Barrichello was not able to start the race, but rejoined the circus at the next race in Monaco.