Ranking 5 of the Most Accident-Prone Drivers in Formula 1 History

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2014

Ranking 5 of the Most Accident-Prone Drivers in Formula 1 History

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    Many Formula One drivers have been described as accident-prone over the years.

    Some just had a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, while others created most of their own problems.

    Drivers like Jody Scheckter arrived in the sport with a reputation for being a bit erratic, but over time mellowed into competent, quick drivers.

    Others, like Taki Inoue, never really had a chance to maturebut in his case, that was probably a good thing.

    Here are five prominent examples of such drivers, with accompanying video highlighting their most famous off-track excursions.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    At various points in their careers, a lot of drivers could have made this list.

    Looking at the current crop of F1 talent, Romain Grosjean is the stand-out example.

    Described by Mark Webber to Sky F1 as the "first-lap nutcase," the Frenchman's first-corner faux pas at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix earned him the distinction of being the first man to receive a race ban for dangerous driving since Eddie Irvine in 1994.

    Fortunately, he's no longer that guy.

    Lewis Hamilton's 2011 season is also worthy of a mention. He managed to run into his teammate in Canada, Kamui Kobayashi in Belgium and Felipe Massa on several occasions.

    Speaking of Massa, he's had his moments, too.

    Going further back, we find a notable world champion whose early-career nickname suggests he should be included. But it was James Hunt's time in the lower formulae that earned him the nickname The Shunt; in F1, he had mostly ironed out his problems.

Jody Scheckter

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    Jody Schecker was world champion in 1979, beating his prodigiously talented teammate Gilles Villeneuve to the crown.

    But there was a time such a result would have been unthinkable, and it's that period of his career which earns him a spot on this list.

    Scheckter began racing in his native South Africa, and according to Formula1.com, he was black-flagged for dangerous driving in his first-ever race.

    But during his incident-strewn rise through the lower formulae, the raw talent possessed by Scheckter was recognised. McLaren handed him his F1 debut at the 1972 United States Grand Prix, and he finished ninth after a spin.

    He led his third race, the 1973 French Grand Prix, but somersaulted off the circuit after hitting defending champion Emerson Fittipaldi. The Brazilian was furious, and said afterwards (per motorsportretro.com), "This madman is a menace to himself and everybody else and does not belong in Formula One."

    And at the next race, the British Grand Prix, he spun at Woodcote on the first lap and took out almost half the field. The race was stopped and restarted, minus Scheckter and the 10 other cars he'd helped to wipe out. A video of the incident is above.

    Under pressure from the Grand Prix Drivers Association, McLaren agreed to rest their driver for four races. On his return, Scheckter collided with Francois Cevert and retired.

    But it was a far more tragic incident involving Cevert, at the next race in the United States, which prompted Scheckter to transform into the world champion he would later be.

    Jody was the first man on the scene of Cevert's fatal accident. He stopped his car to try to help, but nothing could be done. Scheckter said of that day (h/t Formula1.com), "From then on all I was trying to do in Formula One was save my life."

    The following year, under the guidance of Ken Tyrrell, he came third in the championship with zero self-inflicted retirements.

    The new Scheckter didn't lose all the traits of the old one, and he still had the occasional trip into the gravel during the rest of his career.

    But his story is the best example of all of what can be achieved by even the most reckless of drivers if they put their mind to it and flick the aggression down a notch or two.

Vittorio Brambilla

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    Nicknamed "The Monza Gorilla" because of his aggressive style, Vittorio Brambilla was a good friend of the barriers.

    He made his F1 debut in 1974 and quickly earned a reputation as a hard, uncompromising racer who frequently pushed the car a little bit too far.

    When he stayed on the road, Brambilla was certainly quick. He started on pole for the 1975 Swedish Grand Prix in an unfancied March, and a few rounds later he won the first and only F1 race of his career, the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix.

    But few people remember that day for the way Brambilla tamed the appalling conditions at the Osterreichring.

    Instead, it was the race which cemented his accident-prone legacy.

    As he crossed the finish line to win the rain-shortened race, Brambilla waved his hands in the air in celebration. He lost control, slid into the barriers further along the straight and completed his victory lap in a slightly broken car.

    Video of the incident isn't great, but the best available is at the top of the page.

    Brambilla raced on until 1980, but he never stood on the podium again.

    He did have a few more crashes, though.

Pastor Maldonado

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    A representative from the current grid is always a good thing in these lists, and there's only one man fit for the job.

    Pastor Maldonado is a talented driver who seems to switch off his brain far too frequently.

    His first high-profile moment of madness was in 2005. During a Formula Renault 3.5 event at Monaco, Maldonado failed to slow down sufficiently at the scene of an accident and hit a marshal on the track.

    He was banned for four races and barred for life from driving in the principality. But German newspaper Bild reported (h/t auto123 for the translation) that Maldonado's wealthy father managed to get the latter ban lifted by paying for the marshal's medical treatment.

    His F1 life hasn't been much better.

    In 2011, he was lucky to escape with just a five-place grid penalty for sideswiping Lewis Hamilton during qualifying at Spa. The move was deliberate, and he could easily have been excluded from the event. He finished the year with a single point.

    But in 2012, he took it to a different level. He crashed out of the opening race on the last lap, and after brilliantly winning the Spanish Grand Prix, he was again involved in an incident in which he deliberately hit another car.

    Sergio Perez was the victim this time, Monaco the venue, and the deliberate nature of the collision was even more obvious than it had been the previous year in Spa. The video is above.

    Again he escaped with a slap on the wristand proceeded to run into Pedro de la Rosa at the first corner.

    It was the start of a remarkable run of appalling driving.

    In Canada, he crashed in qualifying. In Valencia, for the European Grand Prix, he crashed into Lewis Hamilton and cost himself third. In Britain, he hit Perez (accidentally this time).

    At the German Grand Prix, he hit some debris from someone else's accident, and in Hungary he crashed into Paul di Resta.

    The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa was next, and he received three penalties. First, he blocked Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying and was given a three-place grid penalty. Then he jumped the start (five place grid-drop for the next race), and a few laps later crashed into Timo Glock (five more).

    The seven-race reign of terror ended when he finished an incident-free 11th in Italy.

    But Maldonado continues to attract the wrong headlines. On Sky Sports' live qualifying coverage, he accused his Williams team of sabotaging his car at the 2013 United States Grand Prix. Then crashed on the first lap.

    And at the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix, he hit and rolled Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber.

    One has to wonder if he'll ever tone it down. He'll be quite good if he can.

Andrea De Cesaris

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    Andrea de Cesaris holds a number of F1 records, but none of them are good ones.

    Races Without a Win208
    Total Retirements148
    Consecutive Retirements18
    Retirements in a Season14 (from 16 races)

    He also had a rather unfortunate nicknameAndrea de Crasheris.

    It was coined in 1981, his first full year in the sport. Driving for McLaren, he suffered a string of accidents and was costing the team a fortune in replacement parts.

    After qualifying 13th for the Dutch Grand Prix, he suffered the ultimate indignity when the team withdrew him from the race before it started.

    The reason? According to grandprix.com, they were afraid he was going to break another car.

    De Cesaris did show the occasional flash of talent, and very nearly won a race the following year. He was eventually classified third at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix after his Alfa Romeo ran out of fuel on the final lap.

    But it was mostly his Marlboro sponsorship that kept him in F1, and over the course of his career, he drove for 10 different teams.

    He stayed another year at Alfa Romeo, then moved to Ligier for 1984. The results were not good, and he was fired by Guy Ligier in late 1985 afterof coursea string of crashes. The best of the bunch is in the video above.

    Minardi were next, then Brabham. He was at Rial in 1988 and Scuderia Italia for the two seasons after that. His reliability was improving, but the uncompetitive nature of the cars meant he was limited to only occasional points finishes.

    A year at Jordan brought nine points, then it was off to Tyrrell for two seasons, ending in 1993.

    It seemed his career was over at this point, but he had a further two-race stint at Jordan as a replacement for the banned Eddie Irvine in 1994.

    He then moved to Sauber for nine races, retired from eight of them and called it a day.

Taki Inoue

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    In early 2013, users of the Autosport forum were discussing who the worst F1 driver of recent years was, and the debate received an unexpected entrant on Twitter. Per ESPN.com:

    Hey, mister! You don't need to consider who is the worst F1 driver forever!! It's definitely me Taki Inoue.

    Taki Inoue was the guy who made other pay drivers look like champions, but he stood out not for the accidents which were his fault (and there were many of those). Rather, everyone remembers Inoue for the way official track cars seemed inexorably drawn to him.

    He spun off in three of his first five races, and did the same in practice for his sixth, the 1995 Monaco Grand Prix. As his car was being towed back to the pits after the session, rally driver Jean Ragnotti was doing a demonstration lap in the safety car.

    Monaco is lined with barriers, and it can be difficult to see what's ahead. Ragnotti rounded a corner and had no time to avoid the Footwork which had materialised on the racing line in front of him.

    Inoue's car was flipped, and the Japanese driver was lucky to escape with his life. His helmet was damaged and he suffered a concussion, but otherwise he was fine.

    There's no footage of the accident available online, but you can see the aftermath here.

    Four races and two self-inflicted retirements later, Inoue stopped during the Hungarian Grand Prix with an engine failure. The medical car came by to check if everyone was OK.

    Inoue didn't see it, ran in front of it, and was run over. Fortunately, he suffered only minor injuries. The video is above.

    Rather than set him back, the incident actually sparked his best run of form in F1. In the remaining seven races, he managed three consecutive finishes, and only one retirement was his own fault.

    Happily for most involved, Inoue's 1996 drive fell through. He now works as a driver manager and runs probably the best F1-related Twitter account in the world.

    Take a look, it really is that good: Taki Inoue on Twitter.

    And here's mine: