Pele and 5 Formula 1 PR Disasters

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2015

Pele and 5 Formula 1 PR Disasters

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    Pele (eventually) waves the chequered flag at the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix.
    Pele (eventually) waves the chequered flag at the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix.DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/Associated Press

    Back in 2002, when the Brazilian Grand Prix was still one of the first races in the Formula One season, someone asked Brazilian soccer superstar Pele to wave the chequered flag at the end of the race.

    Unfortunately, when Michael Schumacher crossed the start/finish line to win the grand prix, Pele was "happily chatting to a friend," according to the BBC, and he did not wave the flag. He also missed Michael's brother, Ralf, who finished second, just half-a-second back, but he recovered in time for third-place man David Coulthard, who was nearly a minute down the road.

    At least Pele's delayed reaction did not impact the race at all. At the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix, the chequered flag was waved on Lap 55 of 56, meaning the official results were taken from the end of Lap 54 (the finishing order did not change, but it could have).

    In honour of the anniversary of Pele's blunder, on March 31, 2002, here are five other F1 PR disasters.

Tone-Deaf in South Africa

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    During the 1980s, international pressure was mounting against South Africa's racist apartheid policy. Despite taking criticism, F1 continued to race in the country until 1985.

    That year, per ESPN F1, "Ligier and Renault both refused to race, in line with the French government's increasing hard-line stance against the South African regime." The Swedish and Brazilian governments also pressured their country's drivers to skip the race and some sponsors even removed their names and logos from the cars.

    After receiving so much flak for the 1985 race, the FIA, F1's governing body, announced that the sport would not return to South Africa until apartheid ended.

A Near-Dead Heat at Indy and the Death of Team Orders

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    It seems 2002 was a popular year for PR gaffes in F1. After the Austrian Grand Prix, where Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello was controversially ordered to move aside for his team-mate Michael Schumacher, the German attempted to return the favour at the U.S. Grand Prix...sort of.

    It was not really clear whether Schumacher was trying to pay Barrichello back or to stage a dead heat at the end of the race.

    According to Autosport, Schumacher said:

    We tried to cross the line together but failed by a tiny bit and in fact we did not know who had won until we got out of the cars.

    I just felt Rubens deserved to win this race. He has made sacrifices for me at least twice this year and I guess that what goes around comes around.

    Either way, Ferrari's manipulation of the results of the Austrian GP, followed by the U.S. GP, was not popular with the fans and team orders were banned starting with the 2003 season. By 2011, they were back, though, as the rule proved impossible to effectively police.

Diamond Thieves at the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix

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    The diamond on the Jaguar nosecone.
    The diamond on the Jaguar nosecone.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    At the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, as part of a promotion for the film Ocean's Twelve, Jaguar attached giant diamonds to the noses of their cars. According to BBC Sport, they were each worth £140,000.

    What could go wrong?

    If you answered, "One of the cars could crash into the barriers around the tight streets of Monaco and the diamond could be lost," you are correct. It didn't take very long either.

    On the first lap, maybe 30 seconds into the race, Christian Klien hit the wall at the Loews hairpin. By the time the car was brought back to the pits at the end of the race, the diamond was gone.

    "Somebody here is going to walk away with more than just a normal motor racing keepsake," said Jaguar spokesman Nav Sidhu, per

    "I don't expect we are going to get it back at all, but we were prepared for this otherwise we would never have done it."

Bahrain Protests Lead to a Cancelled Race

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    Protests against the race continued in 2014.
    Protests against the race continued in 2014.Hasan Jamali/Associated Press

    In 2011, political protests in Bahrain caused the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was supposed to be the season-opening race, to be postponed.

    After the FIA tried to reschedule the race for later in the season, it faced criticism from the teams and from human rights groups.

    "I think it is unacceptable and we've told Bernie that and he knows our opinion," said Mercedes' Ross Brawn, according to Tim Collings of Wide World of Sports.

    "If we continue to take those sort of approaches then we will run into problems because our people cannot be expected to work in that environment and situation."

    Eventually, bowing to pressure from the teams, F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone announced that the race was cancelled, per The Guardian's David Batty.

    No matter how you feel about the protests, the whole situation did not reflect particularly well on F1.

Double Points? Really?

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    Bernie Ecclestone, mastermind of the double points scheme.
    Bernie Ecclestone, mastermind of the double points scheme.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    For the 2014 season, Ecclestone presided over the introduction of a ridiculous scheme to award double points at the final grand prix of the season (so a win would be worth 50, rather than the normal 25 points, for example).

    Thankfully, the gimmick did not impact the championship—but it could have.

    The rule change was widely panned and was dropped after just one season, before it could do any real damage.

    Still, this type of PR failure has become too common in modern F1. Next time Ecclestone or anyone else has a plan to "improve" the sport, they should consider floating it on F1's new and improved Twitter account for a couple of days—they will quickly find out whether the people paying to watch the sport think it is actually a good idea or not.

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