5 Controversial F1 Moments

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2015

5 Controversial F1 Moments

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    Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had a heated and controversial rivalry.
    Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had a heated and controversial rivalry.PIERRE CLEIZES/Associated Press

    Today is the 33rd anniversary of the 1982 South African Grand Prix, which was nearly cancelled due to a strike by the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

    The problem, which was resolved just in time for the race to take place, consisted of a change to the drivers' Super Licences, which would have restricted them from changing teams.

    In remembrance of that race-that-almost-wasn't, we are taking a look back at five controversial moments in Formula One history. The controversies are not ranked, but are presented in chronological order.

    They also represent a wide range of the different scandals that have occurred in the sport's sometimes-chequered history—from stolen documents to institutionalized racism in a host country to on-track dust-ups.


Colin Chapman's Water-Cooled Brakes

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    Colin Chapman
    Colin ChapmanTony Duffy/Getty Images

    In 1982, Colin Chapman came up with an ingenious way for his Lotus cars to compete with their turbo-powered rivals: He put large water tanks in his cars, supposedly to cool the brakes, which could be emptied during the race and then refilled at the end, per F1 Fanatic's Keith Collantine.

    This meant the cars met the minimum weight requirements before and after the race, but could run much lighter during the grand prix.

    Williams and Brabham adopted the idea, as well, but had drivers disqualified from the second race, in Brazil.

    Williams, Brabham, Lotus and McLaren then boycotted the San Marino Grand Prix in protest over the disqualifications, but they were not overturned.

Apartheid in South Africa

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    By the beginning of the 1980s, South Africa was under incredible pressure to end its policy of racial segregation, known as apartheid.

    Most sports had placed sanctions against South African teams and athletes many years before—the country had been expelled from FIFA in 1961, for example, and from the International Olympic Committee in 1970, per the Mail and Guardian

    However, F1 continued holding an annual race at the Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg until 1985. That year, French teams Ligier and Renault boycotted the race in protest. Meanwhile, Marlboro removed its logo from McLaren's cars, according to CNN's Ed Foster (you can see Alain Prost's blank McLaren in the video above, which shows the end of the race).

    Finally, the pressure proved too much for F1 and the sport did not return to South Africa until 1992, once apartheid had ended. The stain of being one of the last sports to officially oppose the racist policy lingers, though.

Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost

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    At the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren team-mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided, knocking the Frenchman out of the race. Although Senna continued and won the grand prix, he was then disqualified, handing the world championship to Prost.

    The following year, the Japanese race decided the championship again. And again, it was a controversial decision.

    Senna qualified on pole, but his request to start from the clean side of the track was denied. Going into the first corner with Prost, now driving for Ferrari, the Brazilian slammed into his former team-mate, clinching the title for himself.

    Motor Sport Magazine's Nigel Roebuck wrote that, at the following race, "one of the McLaren engineers whispered to me that the telemetry showed that Ayrton had never lifted for the corner at all—he simply took aim."

    Although Senna originally denied that he crashed into Prost on purpose, he later admitted that is exactly what happened, per the Daily Mail's Phil Duncan.

A 6-Car Race at Indianapolis

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    In 2005, F1 was using two tyre suppliers: Bridgestone and Michelin. During practice for the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis, Michelin discovered that its tyres were failing on the high-speed, banked final turn.

    The seven Michelin teams suggested adding a chicane at the final corner, which would slow the cars enough to make it safe for them to run. The FIA denied this request, per the official F1 website, so 14 Michelin-shod cars pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap.

    The race continued with just six cars while fans booed and threw objects onto the track. "It was mainly bottles, a bit of beer, as far as I could smell, in the first corner, but conditions were OK, no problem," Michael Schumacher, the race winner, said in the post-race press conference.

    The race lasted just two more years at Indianapolis.


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    Nigel Stepney
    Nigel StepneyGetty Images/Getty Images

    In 2007, McLaren engineer Mike Coughlan was caught with detailed plans for Ferrari's car, which had been given to him by Ferrari's Nigel Stepney.

    That was bad enough, but even more controversial was the penalty McLaren received, including a $100 million fine and their exclusion from the 2007 constructors' championship.

    Ron Dennis, the McLaren team principal at the time, felt his team was being unfairly punished. In an interview with Esquire (via James Allen's F1 site), Dennis said:

    The bit I don’t like is when people damage the reputation of this company for reasons that have their roots in issues that relate to how fiercely I’ve fought for what I believe to be right for Formula One and McLaren. Sometimes it’s a price you wish you didn’t have to pay, but it is.

    Lewis Hamilton won the drivers' title for McLaren the following season, but the team has not won another championship since.

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