Ranking the 5 Biggest Gaffes in Formula 1 in 2015

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2015

Ranking the 5 Biggest Gaffes in Formula 1 in 2015

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    Formula One is arguably the most technologically advanced, sophisticated sport on the planet.

    The paddock is awash with some of the most creative, astute minds in any profession and the grands prix we sit down to watch on Sunday afternoons are the result of days and weeks of meticulous planning as the competitors seek to control the seemingly uncontrollable.

    No stone, it appears, is left unturned and very little is left to chance, which makes it all the more reassuring that Formula One folk—as smart as they like to think they are—are sometimes reduced to bumbling fools.

    In a sport where man meets machine, human error often plays a decisive role in the outcome of a race, with drivers making unforced errors and teams prone to poor strategy calls in high-pressure situations, rendering themselves incompetent.

    And as Lewis Hamilton discovered in the Monaco Grand Prix, nobody—not even a three-time world champion—is immune to mistakes in F1.

    From an innocent rookie error to that Mercedes pit stop, here are the five most memorable gaffes of the 2015 season, with our choices based on the magnitude and the facepalm value of each mistake.

Honourable Mentions

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    One of the most embarrassing gaffes came in the last race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Valtteri Bottas was released from his pit box and collided with Jenson Button.

    While the incident hardly affected Button, Bottas was forced to complete a full lap with a broken front wing before stopping for repairs and receiving a five-second time penalty as a result of one of many errors by the Williams team in 2015.

    Carlos Sainz Jr., meanwhile, suffered one of the oddest accidents of the season in the Japanese GP, where he hit a bollard after making a late decision to pit.

    The Spaniard later told Toro Rosso's official website that the incident occurred after he misjudged the behaviour of Pastor Maldonado's car—and he is not the first, nor will he be the last, to do so.

    An error-related list, after all, would not be complete without a mention of the Lotus driver, and Maldonado must be included for missing the pit entrance for the second year in succession in China (it should be noted, however, that the Venezuelan was struggling with brake problems at that stage of the race).

    The oil spill at the Russian GP, which delayed the first free-practice session by 30 minutes, also deserves a mention.

5. Marshals Struggle with Max Verstappen's Stricken Toro Rosso (Chinese GP)

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    The Chinese Grand Prix has become one of the most bizarre events on the Formula One calendar over the last two seasons.

    The race ended prematurely after the chequered flag was waved one lap ahead of schedule in 2014—meaning the result was based on the classification on Lap 54 rather than Lap 56—and the 2015 grand prix began in a similarly strange fashion.

    As reported by the Mirror's Liam Corless, a spectator was arrested after running across the track during the second practice session, scaling the pit wall and asking Ferrari if he could have a go in one of their cars.

    And the madness didn't end there, spreading from the fans to the race officials as the weekend progressed.

    When, with three laps remaining, an engine failure brought an end to Max Verstappen's breakthrough race performance, the rookie—competing in just his third grand prix—had the grace to park his Toro Rosso STR10 beside a gate in the pit wall.

    A team of seven marshals soon arrived on the scene to wheel the smoking car away but made a mess of it, pranging the front wing against the gate twice in quick succession before a group of Toro Rosso mechanics hurried down to help.

    Fearing their masterpiece would be smashed to smithereens, the engineers took the safe option of removing the car's nose structure, giving the orange-suited morons the room they so desperately needed to finally navigate Verstappen's car to safety against a chorus of ironic cheers from the towering main grandstand.

    Not only did the marshals risk taking a chunk out of Toro Rosso's budget for repairs, they also prevented a last-lap sprint to the finish between Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

    They had one job.

4. Sauber Start Pitting in the Rain (British GP)

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    When the clouds darken, the breeze picks up and rain begins to fall from the sky, the very dimension of a motor race can be changed in an instant.

    It is a time for cool heads, for decisive judgement and for quick yet calculated choices as teams and drivers—in the knowledge that a split-second decision could make or break their entire afternoon—hope to time their switch from dry- to wet-weather tyres to perfection.

    But unfortunately for Sauber, their decisions were shambolic in the British Grand Prix as Marcus Ericsson made three pit stops in the space of just six laps.

    Running comfortably in 10th place as the race entered its final third, Ericsson presumably blinked at the first sight of water on his visor, swapping his hard-compound rubber for intermediates on Lap 37 of 52.

    The plan was that Ericsson, on the ideal tyres as the rain intensified, would gain on those ahead, making up several positions when they too eventually headed for the pits.

    Yet the expected downpour didn't arrive, with Ericsson losing time and grip on a mostly dry track before acknowledging the gamble had not paid off and switching back to slicks on Lap 41.

    Almost exactly as he rejoined the track, however, the rain returned with greater ferocity than ever before, forcing him to tiptoe back to the pit lane for yet another stop for inters—his fourth of the race—on the 42nd lap.

    The key to success in changeable conditions is being on the right tyres at the right time, but Sauber's knack of repeatedly being on the wrong tyres at the wrong time—especially in such a condensed period—was a truly staggering blunder.

    Needless to say, the world championship point Ericsson seemed assured of claiming for much of the British GP ultimately went to the ever-opportunistic Fernando Alonso, who initially pitted on the same lap as the Swede but crucially weathered the storm, sticking with his intermediates for the remainder of the race.

3. Felipe Nasr Weaves His Way into the Wall (Canadian GP)

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Such was the quality of this year's leading debutants that rookie errors were rare occurrences in 2015. 

    Despite their collective lack of experience, Max Vertsappen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Nasr all made seamless adjustments to the pinnacle of motorsport, making quick and long-lasting impressions.

    And while all three, as expected, experienced occasional trials and tribulations during their first season in F1, one incident has lived longer in the memory than the rest.

    In the final practice session ahead of June's Canadian Grand Prix, Nasr was weaving his car along the back straight to generate heat in his Pirelli tyres when, as he later told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, he accidentally pressed the DRS button on his steering wheel.

    With the rear-wing flap wide open, and without the required levels of downforce, Nasr's Sauber C34 couldn't cope with his sharp direction changes and bit back, with the Brazilian losing control and spearing into the concrete wall.

    The humiliating incident not only compromised the Brazilian's entire weekend—he was nailed to the bottom of the Q2 time sheets and went on to finish a lowly 16th in a race where Sauber should have been in contention for points—but left him with a brief trip to the medical centre.

    Nasr, though, recovered quickly to soldier on with a stiff neck and a heavily bruised ego.

2. Williams Fit the 'Wrong Tyre' to Valtteri Bottas' Car (Belgian GP)

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    Since 2007, each driver has been forced to use both sets of dry-weather tyre compounds over the course of a grand prix.

    Not only has this rule led to more variety, ensuring every race features a minimum of one pit stop, it has given the teams a strategic challenge, making them spend at least one stint on a less favourable tyre.

    Until August's Belgian Grand Prix, however, never before had a team fielded a car running both compounds at the same time.

    In a reminder of how automatic an act pit stops have become in an era of two-second tyre changes, Valtteri Bottas' FW37 was fitted with three yellow-striped soft tyres and one white-striped medium tyre during his first pit stop on Lap 8 at Spa-Francorchamps.

    As the Finn, who was running in sixth at the time of his stop, rejoined the track, his Williams mechanics were left to scratch their heads, wondering how they had allowed a rogue tyre to work its way onto Bottas' car and, indeed, just how severe the inevitable punishment would be.

    Rather than ordering Bottas to return to the pits immediately, however, or crippling Williams' afternoon with a disqualification, the FIA stewards allowed the No. 77 to continue on the illegal tyre combination until the team saw fit.

    A drive-through penalty was the equivalent of a mere slap on the wrists for a fundamental, inexcusable error.

    Williams eventually disposed of the mixed-up set on the 21st lap, when Bottas was given four identical medium tyres, but the embarrassment of the team's mistake would remain with them for much longer after he finished ninth.

1. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton Throw It All Away (Monaco GP)

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    Looking back, there was always bound to be some confusion when the virtual safety car was used for the first time.

    The drivers had trialled the system, introduced to guard against the kind of incident that ultimately claimed the life of Jules Bianchi, in the final races of 2014, running at reduced speeds at the end of practice sessions.

    But like most rule changes, it wouldn't be until it came into effect in the high-pressure situation of a race—when the virtual safety car could become a real one without warning—that the teams would gain a full understanding of the new procedure.

    And Mercedes' first experience of the VSC quickly became one they would never, ever forget.

    Lewis Hamilton had dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, setting pole position and establishing a comfortable lead at the principality when Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean collided at St. Devote.

    The virtual safety car period was quickly followed by a real one as the wreckage was cleared and, per Sky Sports, Hamilton's race engineer, Pete Bonnington, initially instructed his driver to stay on track. 

    But the world champion twice questioned the team's wisdom and, instead of taking the initiative, Mercedes bowed to his request for new tyres.

    As team boss Toto Wolff later told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, however, Mercedes miscalculated the time required for Hamilton—who feared he'd be a sitting duck on old tyres if his rivals stopped for fresh rubber—to make a pit stop and re-emerge in the lead.

    And sure enough, the No. 44 car rejoined the track to stare at the rear wings of team-mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, both of whom never even intended to pit.

    The benefit of fresh tyres was non-existent on the tightest, twistiest circuit of them all, where track position is crucial, and a mortified Hamilton was unable to force his way through, finishing third in a race with his name on it.